Antibiotics have been a cornerstone of innovation in the fields of public health, agriculture, and medicine. However, recent studies have shed new light on the collateral damage they impart on the indigenous host-associated communities. These drugs have been found to alter the taxonomic, genomic, and functional capacity of the human gut microbiota, with effects that are rapid and sometimes persistent. Broad-spectrum antibiotics reduce bacterial diversity while expanding and collapsing membership of specific indigenous taxa. Furthermore, antibiotic treatment selects for resistant bacteria, increases opportunities for horizontal gene transfer, and enables intrusion of pathogenic organisms through depletion of occupied natural niches, with profound implications for the emergence of resistance. Because these pervasive alterations can be viewed as an uncoupling of mutualistic host-microbe relationships, it is valuable to reconsider antimicrobial therapies in the context of an ecological framework. Understanding the biology of competitive exclusion, interspecies protection, and gene flow of adaptive functions in the gut environment may inform the design of new strategies that treat infections while preserving the ecology of our beneficial constituents.
Sheetal R. Modi, James J. Collins, David A. Relman