Scientists Discover Powerful New Antibiotic Deep Inside a Cave

Posted by Jack Hennigan - Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Scientists may have a new tool in the fight against superbugs. And it came from the center of the earth...

Researchers from McMaster University (Ontario) and the University of Akron are studying bacteria in a cave deep under New Mexico. The Lechuguilla Cave is situated in Carlsbad Cavern National Park, and until recently has not been disturbed by human beings. Maintaining the purity of the place is so important, reporters with PBS’s Nova program had to get down to their birthday suits to prevent their clothes from soiling the water.

"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," researcher Gerry Wright told Science Daily. "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."

Public television nudity may prove beneficial to mankind, as the rise of “superbugs”, (infections that have evolved resistance to man-made antibiotics) are a serious health concern.

From The Mayo Clinic:

“Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotics no longer work against disease-causing bacteria. These infections are difficult to treat and can mean longer lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.”

The researchers found that the bacteria in the cave had antibiotic resistance, but since they had lived without humans for millennia, the resistance must be coming from nature.

The researchers say they also found naturally occurring resistance to Anthrax, and hope to be able to use their findings to counter new drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus (that’s “staph infection” to me and you).

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), agriculture is the leading cause of antibiotic resistance, using up 80% of all antibiotics in the United States. They recently laid out new regulations that critics are calling “tragically flawed.”

The FDA is asking agri-business to only use antibiotics -- which includes growth hormones -- when they are “necessary”. There are no penalties for misuse, and the entire program is voluntary.

The Union of Concerned Scientists issued the following in a press release:

“The outlined process appears to give the companies the opportunity to relabel drugs currently slated for growth promotion for disease prevention instead. Such relabeling could allow them to sell the exact same drugs in the very same amounts. The process also allows companies to avoid risk assessments for new drug approvals…

Ultimately, if antibiotic use is reduced only marginally or not at all much time and taxpayer dollars will have been wasted.”

Though companies that continue overusing antibiotics to make meatier cheeseburgers could complicate matters even further. Because one thing is for sure: bigger cheeseburgers don't bode well for nude PBS correspondants trying to slip into caves...

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