The rise of drug-resistant bacteria has become a leading worry for doctors and scientists, raising fears that old killers like pneumonia or tuberculosis could make a comeback. Modern enterococci are a common source of hospital illnesses; they can take root in the blood, urinary tract, and the lining of the heart and fight off several common antibiotics.
Bacteria excreted from the guts of marine life find themselves in a “comparatively hospitable” water, where those excreted from land animals “would experience comparative isolation, starvation, desiccation, and possibly extinction.” Those excreted by land animals risk drying out or starving to death — but the ones that could survive those threats passed those traits on to their descendants, producing the hardy microbes that concern doctors today.
Over the course of the study, the scientists compiled what Earl called a “parts list” of genes that might reveal the bacteria’s vulnerabilities.
“We want to take those strengths and turn them into their weaknesses,” she said. She compared the bacteria to a tank — a dangerous, durable piece of military hardware.