Watch bacteria become drug resistant in a flash

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The 8-square-foot dish is coated with different levels of antibiotic, ranging from no drugs at all on the edges, to a dose that should be lethal for E. coli, to a very lethal dose, to a ridiculously lethal dose in the center. 

This time-lapse shows how the E. coli spread to the next level, then different mutations evolve and each strain races to the center. The race lasts about 11 days. 

The lead study author says the MEGA-plate was inspired by a clever bit of viral marketing for the 2011 film "Contagion." A billboard was coated with bacteria, which slowly grew to spell out the name of the film. 

The MEGA-plate isn't just for looks, though. The researchers say it can help them understand evolution and drug resistance. For instance, they learned that the fittest strain doesn't always win out automatically — it has to be in the right place at the right time.

And going from no drug to tons of drugs without the gradual steps in between stopped the bacteria from spreading at all. 

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