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Rethinking resistance: How antibiotics are evolving

Mark Greener looks at the efforts being undertaken to tackle antibiotic resistance

In 1845, an expedition lead by Sir John Franklin set sail from England to find the Northwest passage. Their fate remains one of the great maritime mysteries.1

Victorian Arctic exploration was notoriously dangerous and some crew members were dead and buried before the expedition disappeared in the frozen Canadian seas. During the 1980s, archaeologists exhumed three bodies from Franklin’s expedition buried on Beechy Island. Analysis of the hauntingly well-preserved remains helped confirm that lead poisoning from tinned goods, then on technology’s cutting edge, probably contributed to the sailors’ demise. One body had another surprise: viable strains of Clostridium.1

That Clostridium could survive more than a century in permafrost is remarkable enough. But some Clostridium strains showed resistance to modern antibiotics, decades before Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928.2

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