Antibiotics have played a major role in our society thanks to Sir
Alexander Fleming’s careful observations in 1928. Without it, many lives
microorganisms and other living systems that are capable in small
concentrations of inhibiting the growth of or killing bacteria and other
animals called protozoa. A particular group of these agents is made up of
(”life”). Some antibiotics are produced from living organisms such as
bacteria, fungi, and molds. Others are wholly or in part synthetic – that
is, produced artificially.
later development is among mankind’s greatest achievements. Antibiotics
have enabled the medical profession to treat effectively many infectious
diseases, including some that were once life-threatening.
How Antibiotics Work ?
Antibiotics can be bacteriostatic (bacteria stopped from multiplying)
or bactericidal (bacteria killed). To perform either of these functions,
It is believed that antibiotics interfere with the surface of bacteria
cells, causing a change in their ability to reproduce. Testing the action
of an antibiotic in the laboratory shows how much exposure to the drug is
amount of an antibiotic taken at one time might kill the bacteria causing
caused by the drug. Therefore, antibiotics are given in a series of
smaller amounts. This assures that the bacteria are either killed or
reduced enough in numbers so that the body can repel them. When too little
antibiotic is taken, bacteria can often develop methods to protect
themselves against it . The next time the antibiotic is needed against
these bacteria, it will not be effective.
Taking in Antibiotics.
To work against infecting organisms, an antibiotic can be applied
externally, such as to a cut on the skin’s surface, or internally, reaching
given in different ways.
Topical. Topical application means “to a local area” such as on the
skin, in the eyes, or on the mucous membrane. Antibiotics for topical use
are available in the form of powders, ointments, or creams.
Oral. Tablets, liquids, and capsules are swallowed. The antibiotic
is released in the small intestine to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Troches, or lozenges, are allowed to dissolve in the mouth, where the
antibiotic is absorbed through the mucous membrane.
Parenteral. Applications outside the intestine are called parenteral.
One form is an injection, which can be subcutaneous (under the skin),
intramuscular (into a muscle), or intravenous (into a vein). Parenteral
administration of an antibiotic is used when a physician requires a strong,
quick concentration of the antibiotic in the bloodstream.
Natural. At one time all antibiotics were made from living organisms.
This process, known as biosynthesis, is still used in the manufacture of
some antibiotics. It is actually the organisms that manufacture the
antibiotic. The people involved merely provide favorable conditions for
mold organisms are placed in a medium (a substance used for the growth of
temperature of 25?C and shaken for more than 100 hours. The mold organisms
grow rapidly in this warm soup, producing penicillin as they do so. The
penicillin is later extracted.
Synthetic. All penicillin types have an identical chemical nucleus
called a ring. The chemical chain that is attached to the ring is
different in each type. By changing the molecules of the chain, scientists
devise drugs with potentially different effects on different organisms.
Some of these drugs are useful in treating infections, some are not.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers now use computer-generated images of the
rings and experiment with an endless variety of possible chains.
Researchers have developed antibiotics with long half- lives (period of
effectiveness), which allow taking the medication once in 24 hours instead
of every few hours. The newer antibiotics are also more effective against
a wider range of infections than were earlier drugs.
Varieties of Antibiotics.
There are dozens of antibiotics. The following are in common
Penicillins. The various types of penicillins make up a large group
of antibacterial antibiotics of which only those from benzyl penicillin are
naturally produced from molds. Penicillin G and ampicillin are in this
class. Another penicillin, called piperacillin, has been shown to be
effective against 92 percent of infections without causing serious side
effects. Penicillins are often given in combination with some of the
following categories of drugs.
Cephalosporins. Similar to the penicillins, cephalosporins are often
given when a sensitivity (allergic reaction) to the former is known or
suspected in a patient. Cefotaxime sodium is a kind of cephalosporin that
is very effective in combating deep infections such as those that occur in
bones and those resulting from surgery.
Aminoglycoside. Aminoglycosides include streptomycin and neomycin.
infections. Because of potentially serious side effects, such as
interference with hearing and their ability to make one sensitive to
sunlight, these drugs are given with caution.
Tetracyclines. Tetracyclines are effective against pneumonia, typhus,
and other bacteria-caused illness but can harm the function of the liver
Macrolides. Macrolides are often used in patients who appear to be
sensitive to penicillin. Erythromycin is the best known medicine in this
Polypeptides. The class of antibiotics called polypeptides is quite
toxic (poisonous) and is used mostly on the surface of the skin
(topically). Bacitracin is in this category.
Resistance and Side Effects.
An antibiotic acts by limiting or stopping (and therefore
killing) the growth of a specific microorganism. It probably accomplishes
targeted while at the same time having little effect on the body’s normal
When one is exposed continually to an antibiotic for an illness of
long duration (such as rheumatic fever), the targeted bacteria may develop
its own defense against the drug. An enzyme that can destroy the drug may
be produced by the bacteria, or the cell wall can become resistant to being
broken by the action of the antibiotic. When this happens, and it does
or streptomycin, the patient is said to be “fast” against the drug. For
example, one may be penicillin-fast, meaning penicillin is no longer able
Allergic reactions to antibiotics are usually seen as rashes on the
deafness can occasionally result. It was once thought that allergic
reactions to antibiotics – penicillin in particular – were frequent and
permanent. Recent studies suggest, however, that many people outgrow their
sensitivity or never were allergic. The large number of antibiotics that
are now available offers a choice of treatment that can, in most instances,
avoid allergy-causing drugs.
It is well to remember that all drugs can cause both wanted and
unwanted effects on the body. The unwanted ones are called side effects,
and these must be balanced against the effects desired in determining if a
particular drug will do more harm than good. It is a fact that all drugs
have the potential to be both beneficial and harmful.
History and Future.
The years between 1928 and 1940 were the most fruitful in the
discovery and development of antimicrobial drugs. In 1928 Sir Alexander
Fleming, a British bacteriologist, noticed that a mold growing in one of
the mold that produced the substance that killed the bacteria was a species
of Penicillium, he named the germ-killing substance penicillin. The first
use of an antibiotic, however , is not known, as folk medicine has used
various molds to fight infections throughout history. In 1935 a German
chemist, Gerhard Domagk, discovered the first sulfa drug, prontosil. In
1941 penicillin was used to treat serious infections. The results were
dramatic because patients who received the drug made rapid and complete
recoveries. Bacitracin, chlortetracycline, and streptomycin, naturally
occurring antibiotics, were discovered by 1948. The penicillin ring was
way was open for the development of penicillin was the beginning of an era
number of substances that inhibit or kill bacteria have been discovered.
Another use of antibiotics is as additives to the feed of animals.
Chickens and beef cattle, for example, can be fed with these additives for
better weight gains and to speed their growth.
Current work in antibiotics is largely in the area of viruses.
Although some antivirals are available, most have toxic effects so severe
that they can be used only in life-threatening diseases where the negative
effects are the lesser danger. Preliminary studies, however, are reporting
success in the development of safer antiviral drugs, and their use should
be possible within the near future.
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2. Synthetic Organic Chemicals, United States Production and
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