Decades of overuse, misuse, and environmental antibiotic pollution has increased the global pool of resistant bacteria. With estimates of hundreds of thousands of annual human deaths and a lack of new drugs to replace old ones, antimicrobial resistance probably constitutes one of the greatest human health and sustainability challenges of the 21st century. To safeguard treatable infections, a deliberate social-ecological transformation is needed toward stewardship of the global microbiome and long-term sustainable use of antibiotics.
In a recent article in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, GEDB researcher Peter Søgaard Jørgensen together with GEDB director Carl Folke and colleagues review the foundation for such a transformation. To do so they use recent insights from sustainability science, evolutionary biology and health, and the understanding of human interactions with microbes as two intertwined complex adaptive systems.
A coherent strategy should acknowledge humans as the source of the world’s strongest evolutionary force, reflect that antibiotics are building blocks of modern health systems, and strive to build social-ecological resilience to minimize levels of resistance and avoid over dependency on innovation of new drugs, the author team conclude. They also provide advice on how such a strategy could become realized.
The online popular-science magazine Rethink has published an article on the role of microbes for human health, the development and dangers of microbial resistance and more, based on research by Søgaard Jørgensen and colleagues. They pledge for a global mind shift “from seeing microbes as supervillains to recognising their superhero role in our planet’s life support system.”
Read the Rethink article “A pro-microbial state of mind”.
Søgaard Jørgensen, P., D. Wernli, C. Folke, and S.C. Carroll. 2017. Changing Antibiotic Resistance: Sustainability Transformation to a Pro-Microbial Planet. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 25:66–76 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2017.07.008