Triclosan Antibiotic Resistance

Researchers from the University of Birmingham discovered an unsettling link between a major mechanism of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and triclosan, a disinfectant commonly found in household cleaning products.

Antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasing problem in the world today and scientists are looking for innovative ways to combat the coming of a post-antibiotic world. However, in order to be better prepared for our battle with the “super-bugs”, it is crucial to understand how antibiotic resistance came about in the first place. Simply producing new drugs will likely result in delaying the inevitable, whereas educating ourselves about responsible use of our “weapons” on top of that will yield more sustainable results.

An important discovery in line with that thought has just surfaced yesterday in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. In the study, scientists from the University of Birmingham and Norwich Research Park report that a significant blame for the development of microbial resistant could be pinned on the overuse of triclosan, a common household disinfectant found in toothpaste, soap, detergents and even toys.

“We found this can happen in E. coli. As we run out of effective drugs, understanding how antibiotic resistance can happen and under what conditions is crucial to stopping selection of more resistant bacteria” explained corresponding author Dr Mark Webber.

The researchers discovered that bacteria resistant to a major class of broad-spectrum antibiotics called quinolones also developed a resistance to triclosan. Given that the two different antimicrobial agents apparently target similar molecular mechanisms in bacteria, fear emerged that resistance could likely be triggered the other way as well.

“We think that bacteria are tricked into thinking they are always under attack and are then primed to deal with other threats including triclosan. The worry is that this might happen in reverse and triclosan exposure might encourage growth of antibiotic resistant strains” Webber continued.

As the triclosan has become ubiquitous in the last two decades, this new insight in its possibly controversial use could be of extreme importance. Furthermore, it raises concern about the numerous other commonly used disinfectants which are very loosely regulated to say the most, and could provide a convincing argument for more stringent control of disinfectants in the future.

Learn more about triclosan and its controversial use in the video below:


By Luka Zupancic, MSc