Why is Bacterial Resistance to Ampicillin a Concern?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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Ampicillin is an antibiotic in the penicillin family that was one of the first in its class to work against a broad range of bacteria and has been in use since 1961. It works by penetrating bacteria defenses and inhibiting the production of a vital enzyme needed during the replication process. In recent years, resistance to ampicillin is developing among a variety of bacteria due to its many years of human application and extensive use in animal feed. Resistance to ampicillin is a cause for concern because it makes these bacteria more difficult and expensive to treat. In some cases, strains of bacteria can develop resistance to multiple antibiotics, making them very dangerous and almost impossible to eradicate.

Antibiotics have revolutionized the treatment of many diseases and saved countless lives. Penicillin was the first discovered antibiotic, or antimicrobial, in 1927, and it went into wide use by the 1940s. Ampicillin, introduced in 1961, belongs to the same family of drugs. It works by entering the bacteria through its outer membrane and preventing it from making a necessary enzyme for the replication process. Without this enzyme, the bacteria is unable to complete synthesis of the cell wall, which it needs to survive.


As time has gone by, many strains of bacteria have developed resistance to ampicillin, thus creating a potentially dangerous situation. There are several identified causes for this phenomenon. One is the overuse of antibiotics in general, which leads to larger numbers of bacteria that are tolerant to the presence of antimicrobial agents since they must adapt to survive. Resistance to an older antibiotic such as ampicillin can develop simply because it has been in circulation much longer, and there has been ample opportunity for bacteria to adapt.

The fact that ampicillin is used extensively in animal feed is of particular concern. This has caused several food-borne bacteria that are also capable of infecting humans and causing illness to develop resistance to ampicillin. Examples of these bacteria include strains of E.coli, and salmonella. These bacteria have developed a gene for ampicillin resistance that can be transferred from one to another through a process called horizontal transfer, thereby allowing the problem to spread. Existence in the food supply is an avenue for the rapid spread of bacteria that possess resistance to ampicillin to large numbers of the human population.

Resistance to ampicillin is a cause for concern because it makes the bacteria quite difficult to treat. Often a long and expensive course of treatment with a combination of drugs is necessary to clear infections of resistant bacteria. Another danger is that the bacteria will develop resistance to multiple antibiotics. This can be particularly dangerous because the bacteria become progressively more difficult to treat as additional antibiotic resistance develops. Some of these "super bacteria" become deadly and almost impossible to eliminate, a journey that often begins with ampicillin resistance.


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Post 3

I'm writing about antibiotic resistance for biology class. I came across a study that was done on bacteria in fresh water. In the sample they took, about 70% of the bacteria had genes resistant to ampicillin. I think ampicillin will no longer be used in the near future because resistance is becoming so widespread.

Post 2

@ysmina-- I don't think it's prescribed medications that are mostly leading to bacterial resistance to ampicillin and other older antibiotics. As the article mentioned, I think the issue is mostly the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed.

Antibiotics is added to animal feed to protect animals from illnesses and in cases to speed up their growth. But the antibiotics end up on our table in meat, milk and other dairy products. We consume antibiotics on a regular basis this way which speeds up bacterial resistance.

So if we want to resolve this issue, we need to remove antibiotics out of animal feed.

Post 1

Doctors in the US are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics unless it's necessary. I think US must be one of the few countries to really take antibiotic resistance seriously and avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics among patients. So I don't quite understand how bacterial resistance to antibiotics has become such a big issue in this country despite the precautions.

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