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Antibiotic Resistant Germs Have Us Surrounded, Literally

May 08, 2014 04:22 PM EDT
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Scientists have found traces of the genetic information that makes microbes resistant to antibiotics nearly everywhere they have looked, according to a recent study.

The study, published in Current Biology, details how DNA sequencing of samples from a wide variety of environments have all resulted in the same conclusion - antibiotic microbes are literally everywhere.

According to the study, researchers analyzed bacteria samples from 71 different environments, including human feces, Arctic snow, and even the ocean. Alarmingly, no matter where they looked, the scientists always found bacterial samples with enough genetic information to indicate developed or developing antibiotic resistance.

Researchers reportedly know of nearly 3,000 genetic cues that have been associated with antibiotic resistance. However, according to the authors of the study, there could be countless more that have yet to be identified.

Even using the 2,999 cues that are known, traits that lead to a resistance to antibiotic treatment - known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) - were found in every single environment studied in a "relatively important abundance," according to the study.

In environments like Arctic snow, or a chicken's gut, only 0.05 percent of the DNA sythesized showed traces of AMR related information. However, in human feces samples taken from healthy people from Japan, the researchers found a 5.6 percent prevalence of AMR genes. Interestingly, soil, no matter the region, was found to have the largest variety of AMR related genetic information.

These results support a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the world may be approaching a "post-antibiotic era - in which common infections and minor injuries can kill," according to a WHO report issued last Wednesday.

The report detailed how primary treatments for a number of life-threatening bacterial infections are already not effective in at least 50 percent of the world's patients. According to WHO investigators, that percentage is only likely to increase, as evidence indicates that microbes are adapting new AMR trains faster than the world can develop new antibiotic treatments.

The WHO report, Antimicrobial resistance: global report on surveillance 2014, was published on April 30.

The study was published in Current Biology, a Cell publication, on May 8.

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