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Weeding Out the Secret to Antibiotic Resistance

When we get sick with a bacterial infection, we turn to antibiotics such as ampicillin and kanamycin which are responsible for killing harmful bacteria. However, as bacteria adapt and change, they can acquire resistance to antibiotics and continue to proliferate. This is called antibiotic resistance; it is one of the biggest threats to global health today and a costly problem for the healthcare industry.

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Threat to Global Health

As antibiotic resistance emerges as a global health crisis affecting millions of people every year, treatment developments have been scarce and ineffective. When bacteria become resistant to first-line antibiotics, alternative treatments are often more costly and less effective. Among treatment investments, antibiotics are the least profitable, spending 5 dollars for every 1 dollar profit. Since 2002, the cost of antibiotic resistance has doubled, surpassing 2 billion dollars every year.

In Canada, the numbers are especially high, with an estimated 400,000 antibiotic resistant predicted deaths within the next 30 years. By 2050, the price will reach 400 billion dollars in GDP and 120 billion dollars in hospital expenses. The dire antibiotic resistance epidemic can be partially linked to environmental factors present in Canada, often linked to our mining industries.

Heavy Metal-Induced Antibiotic Resistance

Heavy metals we are exposed to on a daily basis such as nickel, cadmium, and arsenic can pose health risks with longterm or high dosage exposure. One of these issues is the inducing of antibiotic resistance. A study showed low doses of heavy metals that we consume through air pollution, water, and agriculture, are highly effective in causing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This is especially relevant in mining areas such as the nickel town of Sudbury, Ontario where heavy metal concentrations in the environment are higher than normal.

Dandelion Roots as Proposed Treatment

North American dandelions are wide-spread and considered a pesky lawn weed. However, in traditional Native American and Chinese herbal medicines, they have long been valuable treatments for a variety of diseases. Research has shown their efficacy in treating diabetes, liver diseases, cancer, and even acne. A new proposed treatment of dandelion extracts, more specifically taraxasterol: the main component in dandelion roots, is against antibiotic resistance. They have been shown to reverse antibiotic resistance induced by heavy metals through enzyme activity.

Beta-lactamase and acetyltransferase are enzymes produced by bacteria that allow resistance to occur. The levels of enzyme activity were explored in the study for dandelion root extracts against heavy metals-induced antibiotic resistance as a mechanism. Heavy metals significantly increased enzyme activity while dandelion root extracts were effective in bringing them back down to the level of activity in the control.


While current treatment developments are costly and likely ineffective, dandelion root extracts are a viable, natural and cost-friendly alternative. Currently, patients who survive antibiotic resistance often suffer longterm side effects that can affect them for a lifetime. Dandelion root extracts pose minimal risk for adverse health effects and show great promise for more extensive research.

For further reading, view the PubMed article here.

Featured image is courtesy of Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels.

Article Author: Kerry Yang

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Sherilyn Wen