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The armistice celebrates its 101st anniversary, but the war continues against antibiotic resistance…

Once upon a time there was a British soldier, Ernest Cable, whose named is written down in history thanks to the curiosity of the genomist Nicholas Thomson…

It all began in early 1915, at the Wimereux hospital in France. It has been 8 months since the Great War began when soldier Cable is hospitalized. He died anonymously from dysentery caused by Shigella flexneri, as did nearly 10% of the soldiers involved in the conflict. 

But in 2011, Nicholas Thomson learns that the first bacterial isolate deposited in NCTC biobank was isolated from Cable and thus discovers the story of this solider. He quickly has the intuition that this strain contains genetic clues related to the evolution of the bacterial species which nowadays shows high levels of resistance to several antibiotics.

Comparative sequencing published in 2014 in the journal “The Lancet”, will later demonstrate in particular that the strain that killed Cable was resistant to erythromycin thanks to the MdtEF-TolC efflux system and had mutations in the bl1-ec gene encoding a β-lactamase, making it resistant to penicillin. These results made Thomson say that “even if penicillin had been available to treat him, Cable would still have died because the bacterium that made him sick was already resistant to the world’s first antibiotic long before it was discovered in 1928”.

Thus, thanks to soldier Ernest Cable and Nicholas Thomson’s team, the “war to end all wars” delivered the first signs of a global epidemic: antibiotic resistance.