What exactly are antibiotics?

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Or rather, what’s a definition of antibiotics that excludes all non-antibiotics while including all antibiotics?

Some sources say that anything that kills bacteria or stops bacteria from growing is an antibiotic. By that logic, though, bleach is an antibiotic, and I don’t think that’s right.

Based on my research, one definition I would throw out there is “substance that kills bacteria while doing minimal damage to the host”— but bacteriophages do that, and they’re definitely not antibiotics.

I know there’s generally a fungal connection, but I don’t think that can serve as demarcation— modern penicillin is synthetic, and others are fully synthetic, I believe.

So how would you define antibiotics?

In: Biology

3 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The definition of antibiotic is a drug we use to treat bacterial infections. So anything that kills bacteria COULD be an antibiotic if it were prescribed by a doctor for that purpose… but since doctors like their patients, y’know, *alive,* they tend to avoid prescribing things like bleach, and they instead stick to ones that have been demonstrated to have minimal side effects.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I mean, why couldn’t a bacteriophage be considered an antibiotic?

Anonymous 0 Comments

> …what’s a definition of antibiotics that excludes all non-antibiotics while including all antibiotics?

Generally the definition of an antibiotic is going to include the qualifier that it is “a medicine” that kills or stops bacteria from growing. Bleach stops bacterial growth but it isn’t a medicine (for anyone other than Trump).

> …but bacteriophages do that, and they’re definitely not antibiotics.

Again, usually the definition will include something about antibiotics being a compound or medicine, while a bacteriologic is a virus. Maggots can be used to treat wounds by eating dead tissue but even though they are used for therapeutic ends they aren’t typically called a “medicine”. Viruses are perhaps not exactly “alive” but they are a bit more than a compound or medicine too.

As an aside I was fascinated by the potential for bacteriophage therapy way back when I chose my handle for using the internet, when it was a new thing and conventional wisdom said you should always be anonymous.