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Name: Rachel
Status: Student
Grade:  9-12
Location: IL
Country: United States
Date: November 2008

How does an antibiotic-producing Streptomyces sp. prevent killing itself by its own antibiotics?

Many micro-organisms rely on 'chemical warfare' to protect themselves from other species. Each organism produces chemicals which are harmless to itself, but hopefully are toxic to other species which may want to occupy the same space. The result is that no antibiotic will affect ALL bacteria, nor will any bacteria be affected by all antibiotics. This applies to the Stretomyces as well as any other species. It is because of this specificity of antibiotic action that it is necessary for doctors to test a range of antibiotics before beginning a course of treatment. It is also a large part of why bacteria make you sick in the first place - as well as affecting other bacteria, the chemicals produced by the bacteria may affect living cells in the host body. Hence it is possible for a bacterial infection in the throat to cause nausea and headaches as you swallow the toxic products.

Nigel Skelton
Tennant creek High School

Every antibiotic has a specific way of killing bacteria. For example, the antibiotic might attack a specific protein that some bacteria needs to live. Often, the antibiotic producer doesn't need (or doesn't have) the protein that the antibiotic attacks... which is how it can remain unaffected while other bacteria around it are killed.

Hope this helps,

Streptomycin binds to the ribosomes of susceptible bacteria and inhibits protein synthesis. The ribosomes of Streptomyces bacteria do not bind streptomycin so Streptomyces is not affected by the antibiotic. Bacteria that are killed by streptomycin can undergo mutation and become resistant to the drug because their ribosomes have a different shape and no longer bind streptomycin.

Ron Baker, Ph.D.

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