Bacteria breeds by dividing. One bacterium divides into two. About 20 minutes later those two cells divide again into four, then eight, 16 and so on. In just 24 hours, after dividing again and again, that number climbs to 2,361,183,241,434,820,000, 000 (give or take).

It’s almost impossible to fathom a number so extraordinarily large, particularly for something so extraordinarily small as bacteria. Yet, that number helps explain how quickly bad bacteria can evolve to become a threat.

From the moment Alexander Fleming pioneered penicillin in the 1940s, bacterial strategies to adapt and outsmart antibiotics have been in play.


Credit: CDC

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