Resistance to antibiotics is a trait transferred between bacteria

Resistance to antibiotics, or the reduction of the effectiveness of antibiotics, increases when bacteria exchange genes with each other. This is why bacterial communities must be investigated.

What are your research topics?

I study resistance to antibiotics, or the reduction of the effectiveness of antibiotics, resulting in several pathogenic bacteria no longer being eliminated by antibiotic therapies.

I look at the phenomenon from the perspective of microbial ecology and evolution.

Even though we are cultivating pure cultures of one bacterial species at a time in the laboratory, in nature bacteria live in communities composed of thousands of different species. They interact with each other and their environment. This field of research is known as microbial ecology.

Gene transfer between different bacterial species is a significant factor in the evolution of bacteria. A certain species, which may be pathogenic, can receive a gene that generates resistance to antibiotics from another species harmless to humans.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

Modern medicine, as actually all facets of the modern lifestyle, is based on effective antibiotics. This pertains not only to traditional infectious diseases, but also to surgery, cancer therapies and, say, childbirth. And not only in humans but also in production animals and pets.

Resistance to antibiotics causes roughly 700,000 deaths every year globally, and the figure is rising.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Microbial ecology and evolution associated with resistance to antibiotics are an interesting topic for basic research, as we lack a clear understanding of the big picture, with even many of the details remaining unclear in spite of the considerable progress made in recent years.

I am particularly interested in the human impact on the ecology and evolution of resistance to antibiotics. I am investigating it in multidisciplinary collaboration with specialists from many different fields.

Marko Virta is a professor of microbiology at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.

Watch Marko Virta’s inaugural lecture as a new professor on YouTube.

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