The gene from South Asia that traveled to an isolated island lost in the Arctic: antibiotic resistance seems unstoppable
Imagine for a moment that you analyze a soil sample from an island lost in the Arctic Circle and, in some bacteria, you find a gene that appeared just three years ago in a handful of urban populations in southern India. Well, no need to imagine: David Graham's team just did it.
Without studying what mutation it is, the discovery is already fascinating. The question of how he has been able to travel such a huge distance in such a short time is a first-order biological puzzle. But if we look at the mutation, amazement turns into concern: antibiotic resistance is eating up the world.
That silent danger called 'antibiotic resistance'
I am not a melodramatic if I say that the problem of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics is "the greatest challenge of modern medicine." Especially because the WHO says so. And not because of the more than 700,000 deaths they produce each year, but because that number continues to grow month by month. It is also a problem for which we do not have a clear solution beyond trying to delay the chronicle of an announced death: that of antibiotics.
It is not something new. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, already stated that "the misuse of antibiotics, with too high doses, could make microbes resistant and thus reverse their benefits." That was 1945, only twenty years after the discovery casual of the first antibiotic.
And, as if it were a prophecy, Fleming's words came true. Methicillin began to be sold in 1960, the first resistances were found in 1962. Levofloxacin was released in 1996 and the first cases of resistance already appeared that same year. In 2000, linezolid came out and in a year we already had resistance. The same time that passed between the launch of daptomycin in 2003 and the appearance of his.
The resistors are eating the world
But the problem goes further: they move very fast. Graham has spent 15 years studying arctic ecosystems. These regions can be considered some of the ecosystems most isolated from human action. So, explains Graham, they help us detect the advance of antibiotic resistance around the world.
After analyzing eight different locations in the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago, they have found up to 131 genes related to resistance to nine large groups of antibiotics. We already knew about the rapid expansion of these genes throughout the world, but these results are a complete wake-up call.
"Just three years after we first detected the blaNDM-1 gene in some urban populations in India, we just found it thousands of miles away" and in an area that has had minimal human impact. Finding "a gene of great clinical relevance originating in South Asia" in the Arctic is "clearly not local."
The researchers suspect that the route of entry has been birds. But be that as it may, the arrival of resistance in "areas like the Arctic confirms how fast it is advancing and how far the expansion of antibiotic resistance is reaching." We are, it seems clear, facing a global problem and, therefore, the researchers insist, we need to "adopt global solutions" before it is too late.