Artificial sweeteners may play role in spread of antibiotic resistance. Four commonly used artificial sweeteners – saccharine, sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium — can promote the horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance genes, according to new research.

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bacteria do transfer genes more when they are stressed, and this indicates that metabolic stress (lack of energy when it was expected) encourages the cells to transmit genes associated with survival. It would be interesting indeed if it turns out that trafficked genes are tagged or identified in some way as occurring/useful in stressful situations so that future stresses cause these trafficked genes to be preferentially moved about. In other words not all genes are equal. Bacteria have a means to mutate their genes when their metabolism is impaired, so that they can literally engineer a solution, i.e, an enzyme that can help metabolise a different chemical or maybe a gene that helps reduce a toxin, as in antibiotic. Then they can spread this solution to each other. I’ve wondered if the bacteria flags up these stress related genes as important ‘patches’ to their genetic code, because even when antibiotics are removed from their environment they keep these genes persistently, even though they are costly to maintain if they are no longer needed. It would make sense too that bacteria that solve their metabolic bottlenecks this way would have more energy and hence should be able to make more genes for horizontal transfer, so this would mean that it makes sense for bacteria to trust new genes produced by neighbouring bacteria, as they must be doing something right to makes those genes, and the recipient bacteria can’t do anything anyhow so might as well take the risk it isn’t a virus. In the case of antibiotic resistant genes some kind of tagging may also cause them to persist (no idea what that is) but I think it could be that we feed antibiotics continuously to bacteria in farm animals, and animal manure releases large amounts of bacteria to the air as it dries, so that these bacteria may be preferentially signalling these ‘stress’ genes and other bacteria gladly accept these. The constant but very low level contamination of our environment with agriculturally derived, air-born antibiotic exposed bacteria may be resulting in a high transmission rate of resistant genes which are replicated and trafficked preferentially by non-exposed bacterial colonies, especially when they are stressed (by anything affecting their metabolism, as in the above case with low energy sugar substitutes). The bacteria of animal guts also happily live in soils so this may be why antibiotic resistant genes are so persistent. Kind of interesting that molecules of aspartame appear to be sugar to bacteria just like our taste buds.


Curious coincidence that 4 different compounds could cause an identical or similar process. Almost like the research was targeted for result.


Those are all chemically unrelated, no? As long as we’re comparing unrelated compounds that happen to be sweet, might as well have included natural low-cal sweeteners like stevia (glycosides), xylitol, etc and their metabolites for same effect. Is there a bit of an “artificial things are bad, mkay” element going on here? Which is fine I guess (we don’t have a great history of anticipating the impacts of novel compounds introduced to the environment).


Interesting find. I am typically pretty unconcerned about artificial sweeteners except insofar as I hate the flavor of them. However, a few years ago I started paying attention to the various gut biome discoveries. One thing that caught my eye are a series of studies on different artificial and alternative sweeteners pegging them for causing gut dysbiosis, which is just a fancy way to say the gut bacteria started acting weird in the presence of these sweeteners. That the reaction was similar to being in the presence of certain antibiotics and for some people the result would be diarrhea. Of course, it’s pretty well known that certain artificial sweetners give some people diarrhea, in fact, some certain popular gums and candies basically are bought for exactly this reason. But it’s interesting to consider that while these chemicals have supposedly been considered “safe” for decades, we also have only relatively recently began to unlock the depth of interaction between our gut biome and the rest of our health. To just overlook these relationships because we didn’t notice them in the past is insane. Sometimes this sub’s members are really weirdly closed minded about certain topics (this one, and like… anything regarding vitamin-d.) The body is so incredibly complex, it mandates we be open to the sort of chain reactions that may result in long term harm or even just more subtle harm that doesn’t make a big splash when looked at from a large and poorly managed statistical pool. With this study taken into consideration one can see that the opportunity for genetic change in the gut biome could also be randomly seeded and that would make its discovery in the past even harder. Could this be the mechanism for the weak but observed link between artificial sweeteners and crohn’s or crohn’s-like symptoms? Who knows. But at least vet the science on its own merits and stop being so afraid to learn something new about these interesting chemicals.


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