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TedTalks with Maryn McKenna

Penicillin changed everything. Infections that had previously killed were suddenly quickly curable. Yet as Maryn McKenna shares in this sobering talk, we’ve squandered the advantages afforded us by that and later antibiotics. Drug-resistant bacteria mean we’re entering a post-antibiotic world — and it won’t be pretty. There are, however, things we can do … if we start right now.

Antibiotic resistance—disease bacteria’s facility in developing defenses against compounds that would kill them—has always existed; the first resistance against penicillin appeared before the drug even reached the market. But the ways we have chosen to over-use and mis-use antibiotics, in medicine and in agriculture, have accelerated the emergence of resistance beyond what we can combat. And because of that acceleration, pharmaceutical companies have mostly backed away from making new antibiotics, arguing—reasonably, from their point of view—that the drugs no longer make economic sense.

Because of those intertwined phenomena, we’re now in a situation that is unique in human history: illnesses and deaths from infectious disease are rising again. Whether it’s resistant Klebsiella, KPC, spreading east across the planet from the United States; or NDM-carrying E. coli moving West from India; or totally drug-resistant TB popping up unpredictably in the Near East; or “pig MRSA” and highly resistant foodborne illness emerging from agriculture—the bugs are on the ascent. And we have a limited window of time in which to block their advance.

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