Introduction to special issue

Meeting resistance

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  18 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6390, pp. 726-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6390.726

A farmer sprays pesticides on crops. Our health and food security are threatened by escalating resistance to such biocides.

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/FOTOKOSTIC

Almost as soon as antibiotics were discovered to be valuable in medicine, resistance emerged among bacteria. Whenever mutating or recombining organisms are faced with extirpation, those individuals with variations that avert death will survive and reproduce to take over the population. This can happen rapidly among organisms that reproduce fast and outpace our efforts to combat them. Thus, our use of chemical entities to rid ourselves of clinical, domestic, and agricultural pathogens and pests has selected for resistance.

Today, we find ourselves at the nexus of an alarming acceleration of resistance to antibiotics, insecticides, and herbicides. Through chemical misuse, resistance also brings widespread collateral damage to natural, social, and economic systems. Resistance to antifungal agents poses a particular challenge because a limited suite of chemicals is used in both agricultural and clinical settings.

Evolution will always circumvent head-on attack by new biocides, and we may not be able to invent all the new products that we need. We must therefore harness evolutionary approaches to find smarter ways to minimize the erosion of chemical susceptibility. We now have it in our means to integrate a variety of approaches to pest and pathogen management, including rigorous regulation of prescription behavior, consistent use of clinical hygiene measures, physical barriers to crop pests, and alternative cropping regimes. We urgently need to revisit our reliance on chemicals to ensure our future medical and food security.

Navigate This Article