Oh, good idea! Let's also put it in the drinking water and feed it to livestock! Nothing like that has ever caused resistance problems in the past!
But I think you missed a key point in the article. Unlike antibiotics, these polymers disintegrate. The article isn't clear on the mechanism–is it part of destroying a bacterium, decay over time or what?-but the implication is that they can be targeted to kill specific bacteria, without then escaping in to the wild to apply selection pressure on bacteria that aren't threatening somebody's life.
It's not like these researchers are unaware of drug-resistant bacteria. The whole point of the statement you quote is that adding them to cleaning agents won't breed resistant bacteria. They may be wrong, but they're not stupid.
But yeah, caution might be a good idea.
To develop resistance, all that is needed is a random genetic mutation that makes a few of the bacteria cells less susceptible to the polymer. The polymer kills all other cells, and the resistant strain grows in numbers and takes their place.
And what's the alternative? Don't attack the cells? Let people get sick and die now, because in the future this mechanism which we aren't using might be obsolete? What's the logic there?
ORLY? Sorry to sound condescending but your glib comment shows an utter lack of awareness about discovering or designing novel drugs. It is never as simple as changing a line of code to get a new molecule that will kill the now resistant bugs and have no new adverse effects on the host.
Drug resistance is a huge problem today and threatens to grow bigger, where pathogens become resistant to drugs (known to be generally safe) and the arsenal of medicines is empty or has investigational drugs of unknown safety.
And what's the alternative? Don't attack the cells?
No. The alternative, in the short term, is to avoid indiscriminate use of drugs that still work, by testing the infecting bugs for pre-existing resistance markers and then using drugs that are orthogonal to co-evolving resistance mutations.
In the longer term, discovering wholly new classes of drugs, like this polymer, but testing for safety and adverse side-effects, is going to be our best hope. Again, the caveat against indiscriminate use applies.
This was a DESIGNED polymer, made explicitely through chemistry to attack a particular animicule.
The old antibiotics are done; the CDC calls the age of antibiotics 'over'. There is no longer any use in stonewalling or holding back on chemistry through some fear that it will ruin the status quo. The status quo is 'nothing works'.
This is a game-changer. The old arguments, the old ways of thinking, are probably obsolete.
So cut out the 'glib' stale arguments and read the article again; come up with a cogent point.
The talk of ecosystems is overused. In 'nature' its 'every organism for itself'. That means we get to try to outrun the bugs any way we can.
So are HIV protease inhibitors. Go read the facts on those, at CDC, FDA and elsewhere.
Modern drugs are designed, just like this polymer.
And your 'glib' comments are still glib.
The polymer works by destabilizing the cell membrane. A mutation which reduces the efficacy of that mechanism would, in fact, promote resistance to the method. Whether or not the polymer design could be modified to adapt to that change (and what the costs of this might be) are an open (and very interesting) question.
However: it's virtually certain that widespread and indiscriminate use would promote resistance to the existing design and method.
This would be analagous to humans evolving to the point where you could not kill one by shooting it in the head with a bullet. It could happen, people with their central nervous system in some part of the body other than the brain would survive a bullet to the head, and there are bullet to the head survivors, for whom brain structure may play a role, but it isn't a huge risk associated with shooting people in the head.
 "They try to mimic what the immune system does: the polymer attaches to the bacteria's membrane and then facilitates destabilization of the membrane. It falls apart, everything falls out and there's little opportunity for it to develop resistance to these polymers."
That's not a necessary condition of evolutionary adaptation. Though I'll freely admit to being outside my bounds of expertise here.
Others have mentioned the lack of bacteria which have adapted to bleach (I haven't confirmed this myself through literature). My general sense is that there's a potential space in which possible solutions exist, and some solution are on the edges of that space, making them harder to reach and/or harder for multiple adaptations to simultaneously exist. There are extremophiles which survive in what would generally be considered extremely hostile environments (ice, high elevations, undersea steam vents, highly acidic geothermal pools, abiotic environments, etc.). Few of these thrive in more generally hospitable environments, presumably because the adaptations which allow them to survive the extreme environments also pose a comparative disadvantage to life forms which don't need to carry the evolutionary baggage / armor / support systems required to survive such environments.
Carl Zimmer wrote a few months ago about a simulation of evolution in which there wasn't a penalty for complexity, his musing on that aspect of the simulation are interesting:
In this experiment there was no cost to extra complexity–something that may not be true in the real world. The human brain makes huge demands of energy–twenty times more the same weight of muscle would. There’s lots of evidence that efficiency has a strong influence on the anatomy of our brains. Perhaps we might have more complex brains if we did. And if the animats had to pay a cost for extra complexity, they would evolve only the bare minimum. That’s an experiment I’d like to see.
If there were billions of bullets flying around, and humans reproduced by the billions in a matter of hours with a generation-to-generation gap of minutes, this would happen in short order.
"The researchers found that hypochlorous acid, the active ingredient in bleach, causes the unfolding of proteins in bacteria in much the same was that heat stress or fever does. Those denatured proteins then clump together irreversibly into a mass in living cells, similar to what happens to proteins when you boil an egg, according to the researchers.
"The bacteria aren't totally defenseless, however. Under those circumstances, a protein chaperone called heat shock protein Hsp33 springs to action, protecting proteins from the aggregation effect and increasing the bacteria's bleach resistance. Protein chaperones are generally defined as proteins whose function is to help other proteins."
Some things like anti biotics are misused and that's caused resistance.
But handwashing with certain microbicides doesn't create colonies of resistant bacteria on our wrists (where the microbicide is diluted) because these microbicides have a different action.
Thus, putting this polymer in all sorts of places is less likely to lead to resistance problems.
It'll also cure you though.
Effective antibacterials / antimicrobials / antitumor treatments have differential effects. Preferably harsher on what you're trying to get rid of than on you. Though the description of chemotherapy as "killing you slightly less effectively than it kills the cancer" has a lot of truth to it.
It possibly can be a good thing, yes we should be cautious, but I think it's rash to judge it negatively from the very start.
Nanotechnology combining with advanced materials will lead to a better understanding of pathogens and ultimately how to eradicate them. These are great steps towards solving many real and serious issues facing society today. It's certainly refreshing to see different disciplines coming together to move us forward.
These [polymers] are years away from clinical use, but this is a glimpse into the not too distant future.
This happened when resistance wasn't well understood. I don't think it happens nearly as much now. I've had doctors tell me "antibiotics won't help what you have, stay in bed and you should feel better in a few days"
This molecule can distinguish between normal cells membranes and bacteria membranes. That's quite easy. Most of the difference between cancer cells and normal cells is in the nucleus, not the membrane, and most anti-cancer drugs target the stage where the nucleus replicates. So, my tentative response is "No".
Having said that, the potential ingenuity of the human race is beyond what I can image right now.
Drugs to attack fungi, let alone cancer, are far more difficult because we're both eukaryotes and share many, many molecular targets. The really hard part is to kill a cell that looks like our cells, but not our cells.
http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/2/44/44ra57.abstract is a paper that talks about it. It's pretty neat!
The real art form is to find a mechanism that kills the cancer sufficiently faster than the patient.
I wonder if this polymer just turns invisble or if it cease to exist without leaving any other compounds, residues or energy.
... is the best way to breed resistance...
"the polymer attaches to the bacteria's membrane and then facilitates destabilization of the membrane" vs "act by inhibiting the synthesis of the peptidoglycan layer of bacterial cell walls".
And the resistance isn't to getting your head blown off. That's thinking too much in the box. It's more like being resistant to having a bullet shot at your head, either by somehow becoming invisible to your assailant's vision, wearing a sufficiently good helmet, or having your vital organs located somewhere else.
While I agree that it seems much harder for bacteria to overcome this new approach, it really isn't safe to say that it's not possible. We have no idea about the microbial world. We barely know a fraction of the microbes that swarm around us, we have no idea what defenses, mechanisms and quirks they have that might provide a method of resistace.
And since this is a passive process (just some polymer floating around) that somehow does not damage human cells, you can bet that there's someway to spoof that.
For something like penicillin, the bacteria gets quite some time to die (it inhibits synthesis!) and there are many different places in the peptidoglycan synthesis pathway for the cell to develop a resistance.
Does that make sense?
The old argument was, don't make our current antibiotics useless by breeding 'resistant' varieties. But now, IBM is making 'magic bullet' antibiotic polymers on their 3D polymer printer.
So what does it matter that new varieties mutate or whatever, if you can just print up a new polymer to handle it.
This is a game-changer. The old ways of thinking are probably obsolete.
Consider it the equivalent of putting vitamin pills in foods, not putting antibiotics in meat.