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Antibiotic resistant bacteria discovered in isolated New Mexico cave

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April 17, 2012

Anitbiotic-resistant bacteria have been discovered in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park (...

Anitbiotic-resistant bacteria have been discovered in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Research into the growing emergence of drug-resistant bacteria could be greatly assisted by the discovery of bacteria from deep within Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico. The previously unknown strains of bacteria, which have never before been exposed to humans, were found to possess a naturally occurring resistance to multiple types of antibiotics that doctors currently use to treat patients. This means that these forms of bacteria may have been exposed to naturally occurring antibiotics which, in turn could be used against currently untreatable infections.

Scientists from McMaster University and the University of Akron discovered the bacteria in deep recesses of a cave that has until recently been isolated from human contact. It was found that none of the bacteria can cause diseases in humans and have never been exposed to human sources of antibiotics. But remarkably, all of the cave bacteria are resistant to at least one known antibiotic, and some have been found to be resistant to at least 14 different antibiotics.

The Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico
The Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico

The previously unknown bacteria seem to have built up a resistance to the natural antibiotics present in this isolated environment over a period of possibly millions of years. The pristine Lechuguilla Cave, located in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, has had restricted access, limited to scientific researchers since its discovery in 1986. It is 1,604 feet (489 m) deep and surrounded by impermeable rock, meaning it can take up to 10,000 years for water to reach its deepest depths. In this environment, free from the influence of human derived antibiotics, the bacteria have developed defenses that have surprised researchers.

"Our study shows that antibiotic resistance is hard-wired into bacteria. It could be billions of years old, but we have only been trying to understand it for the last 70 years," says Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research. "This has important clinical implications. It suggests that there are far more antibiotics in the environment that could be found and used to treat currently untreatable infections."

Resistance to antibiotics is a growing worldwide concern, with much of the resistance attributed to the over-use of antibiotics in humans and animals, and heavy use in agriculture. Antibacterial-resistant strains, or "superbugs," now contribute to a number of diseases that were traditionally well-controlled. The implications of this discovery could mean that a new breed of antibiotics could emerge to fight off an increasing number of infections.

Source: McMaster University

3 Comments

People act like bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics. If .01% of a the population of the bacteria infecting a man is immune to the penicillin he took until he was feeling better because he reduced the bacteria's population back by 90% the penicillin immune bacteria is now .1% ignoring the fact that the penicillin immune bacteria will be reproducing at a greater rate than the non-immune population because of lingering penicillin in the body when the man starts feeling ill again he finishes the bottle and again knocks the bacteria population back by 90% the penicillin immune strain is now 1% of the population. the man now sneezes on a coworker who is no better at taking his pills than the first man. pretty soon most of the bacteria is immune to penicillin.

Slowburn
18th April, 2012 @ 12:42 am PDT

@Slowburn

So, this man takes antibiotics. He isolates himself for treatment. He takes the recommended amount over the recommended time to maximize it's effect. His body takes care of the rest. That's how it's suppose to work. By not doing this, you are helping bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.

When they say the bacteria is developing a resistance to the antibiotics, there are two easy ways to understand this.

The theory of evolution is one way. This is pretty much what you are describing. The problem here is that extinction beats evolution and that's what the antibiotics are for. They are the shock troops and your immune system is the clean up crew.

The second way is that they ACTUALLY develop a resistance to antibiotics. Ever hear of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger"? It's like a person going out and taking any kind poison. The right dosage or more will kill a person, but not enough might only make them sick. Now the person RECOVERS from that poison. Rinse and repeat. That person has developed a resistance to that kind of poison. So, if you don't actually kill all the bacteria that are affected by those antibiotics, they recover and develop resistance.

That's why if you do plan on taking antibiotics, make sure you follow through. By not taking those antibiotics, your body will eventually take care of the bacteria itself anyways, but it will take a longer time. You might even develop a resistance yourself and will be able to recover faster the next time.

Leeyong Yang
18th April, 2012 @ 03:19 pm PDT

re; Leeyong Yang

I was not suggesting evolution just changing the population numbers between 2 strains of bacteria.

The problem with your way is that it does not pass the resistance on to its offspring, and while taking small doses of certain poisons can increase your tolerance to the poison it make you weaker over all.

Slowburn
18th April, 2012 @ 07:32 pm PDT
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