Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
What causes antibiotic resistance? © Getty Images

What causes antibiotic resistance?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Bacteria is becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics we use to treat illness.

Asked by: Eddie Friel, Hull

Advertisement

Antibiotic resistance is a good example of natural selection. Exposure to antibiotics increases selective pressure in bacterial populations, boosting the percentage of resistant bacteria, with new bacterial generations inheriting resistance genes. Bacteria can sometimes pass on resistance by sharing genetic material with each other. They can also become resistant following spontaneous changes to their genes. Some gene mutations allow bacteria to produce enzymes that inactivate antibiotics. Others change their outer structure so that antibiotics can’t gain access. Some bacteria even develop pumping mechanisms to expel antibiotics. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics has exacerbated the problem of antibiotic resistance.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.

Authors

Dr Emma Davies is a science writer and editor with a PhD in food chemistry from the University of Leeds. She writes about all aspects of chemistry, from food and the environment to toxicology and regulatory science.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content