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NOVA scienceNOW: Killer Microbe

Program Overview


Scientists discuss the dangers of a type of bacterium called Acinetobacter baumannii (referred to in Iraq as Iraqibacter), which has transformed itself into an antibiotic-resistant killer.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • introduces A. baumannii, named for microbiologist Paul Baumann, who studied it in 1968. At that time, it was relatively harmless. But it has now transformed itself into a drug-resistant killer.

  • explains that bacteria pass genes in two ways: through mitosis and through conjugation. In conjugation, two bacteria form a physical connection, and DNA passes from one bacterium to the other.

  • hypothesizes that A. baumannii received genes from two kinds of dangerous bacteria: one was fatal to humans and the second was resistant to antibiotics. This combination makes A. baumannii dangerous in two ways.

  • describes the work of a microbiologist researching drug-resistant A. baumannii who determined that new genes inserted at just one DNA location conferred resistance to 45 drugs.

  • states that soldiers of the Iraq War infected with A. baumannii bring the bacteria home, leading to its spread.

  • points out that until scientists better understand A. baumannii, the best way for the public to combat infection is through better hospital hygiene, good medical care, and good personal hygiene.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Killer Microbe
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