The Current

MCR-1 and the dawn of the post-antibiotic age

The discovery of MCR-1, the gene that enables bacteria to be resistant to the strongest antibiotics we have, raises questions about what we're giving to livestock, not to mention what we're giving ourselves. We speak to the doctor who found the MCR-1 link.
McMaster University scientist Gerry Wright is among the Canadians studying the MCR-1 antibiotic resistant gene. (Kelly Crowe/CBC)

What a difference just under a century can make.

Penicillin heralded the beginning of the antibiotic age when Alexander Flemming accidently discovered penicillin in 1928, and helped save millions of lives.

Renowned bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) is most famous for his discovery of the antibiotic powers of penicillin in 1928. Fleming shared the 1945 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with the two chemists who had perfected a method of producing penicillin. (Davies/Getty Images)

But many fear that a new gene, known as MCR-1, could herald the end of the antibiotic age. In the past eight weeks, more than a dozen countries have confirmed the presence of MCR-1.

Timeline for the emergence of MCR-1

And Canada joined that list of countries last week when MCR-1 was detected in a patient, and in ground beef samples dating back to 2010.

  • Dr. Michael Mulvey is Chief of Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections at the National Microbiology Laboratory headquarters in Winnipeg. He's also an Associate Professor in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Manitoba. 
  • Jason Tetro is a microbiologist and author.  His new book "The Germ Files" will be released February 2nd.  

This segment was produced by Vancouver Network Producer Anne Penman.

More segments from our series, Ripple Effect

RadioLab: "Staph Retreat" 

Our last word on this topic goes to the folks at the WNYC radio show RadioLab. Here is "Staph Retreat" that aired last fall.