In our midsts lurk superbugs, bacteria that cannot be killed by the most potent drugs for treating antibiotic infections. The pathogens come with the kind of long, italicized names that send chills down your spine: Klebsiella pneumoniae, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who study these organisms, wanted to show their students just how tenacious the bacteria were. So they set up a big, antibiotic-laced Petri dish for millions of Escherichia coli to swim through, and then aimed an overhead time-lapse camera on them to record how they would fare.
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The results could help scientists better understand these deadly organisms and develop ways to fight them.
"We know quite a bit about the internal defense mechanisms bacteria use to evade antibiotics but we don't really know much about their physical movements across space as they adapt to survive in different environments," Michael Baym, a research fellow in systems biology at HMS, said in a press release.
The Petri dish Baym and his colleagues built was gigantic: four feet long by two feet wide. They dubbed it the Microbial Evolution and Growth Arena or MEGA plate for short. Next, they filled it with agar, a clear, jellylike substance commonly used in labs to grow organisms.
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They divided the MEGA plate into nine sections and then infused each section with a different dose of antibiotic drug. For example, on the two outer sections, they put no antibiotic drug, but in the next sections in, they put 1 times the amount and in the next sections, they put 10 times the amount. In the center section, they put 1,000 times the dose. See the illustration below.