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Harvard University Medical School

Watch Bacteria Become Drug-Resistant Like It's No Big Deal

Bacteria march across a giant petri dish and learn to resist antibiotics in this chilling video from Harvard University Medical School.

By Steven Sparkman | September 8, 2016

Just in case you need a startling reminder of how quickly bacteria become superbacteria, scientists working at Harvard University and an Israeli university built a giant petri dish that makes it easy to see the problem.

The 8-square-foot dish is coated with different levels of antibiotic, ranging from no drugs at all on the edges, to a dose that should be lethal for E. coli, to a very lethal dose, to a ridiculously lethal dose in the center. 

This time-lapse shows how the E. coli spread to the next level, then different mutations evolve and each strain races to the center. The race lasts about 11 days. 

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SEE MORE: Bacteria Found In Skeletons Confirms Source Of London's Great Plague

The lead study author says the MEGA-plate was inspired by a clever bit of viral marketing for the 2011 film "Contagion." A billboard was coated with bacteria, which slowly grew to spell out the name of the film. 

The MEGA-plate isn't just for looks, though. The researchers say it can help them understand evolution and drug resistance. For instance, they learned that the fittest strain doesn't always win out automatically — it has to be in the right place at the right time.

And going from no drug to tons of drugs without the gradual steps in between stopped the bacteria from spreading at all. 

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