From an interesting article
in the New Yorker:
Estimates of the number of bacteria—5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000—are higher than for all the stars.
And on the effectiveness of antibiotics:
It is absurd to believe that we could ever claim victory in a war against organisms that outnumber us by a factor of 1022, that outweigh us by a factor of 108, that have existed for a thousand times longer than our species, and that can undergo as many as five hundred thousand generations during one of our generations.
The notion behind anti-biotics isn't actually to kill all bacteria, because that would actually kill the host human as well.
The notion is to selectively kill the right kind of bacteria, not necessarily to wipe it out entirely, but enough to give the immune system a chance to rally and overcome it - specifically with the help of other kinds of "good" bacteria". The very capacity of bacteria to multiply is actually something we count on - we want the "good" bacteria to outcompete the "bad" ones.
In a sense, it's like the Spanish conquistadors destroying the Aztec empire by allying themselves with the huge numbers of disgruntled locals who opposed Aztec rule. It wasn't just the few hundred European warriors who won their wars - it was also the many, many thousands who made up the native armies that fought beside them, and who actually took control and operated society in "liberated" areas.
They certainly didn't do it for the sake of the Spanish, but it ended up being beneficial to both parties. (At least until introduced European diseases began to wipe them out as well, which for the purpose of this metaphore would be representative of an overuse of antibiotics wiping out even the good bacteria necessary for the body to function.)
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