A team of Chilean scientists has discovered in Antarctica 20 highly unknown species of bacteria that are hyper-resistant to antibiotics, transmitting their immunity to other microorganisms and thus endangering global health.
Andres Marcoleta, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Chile, and his researchers, Makarina Vares and Alexis Gate, an assistant, conducted two expeditions between 2017 and 2019 into the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands.
Using shovels, sterile containers, and modern equipment to measure environmental parameters, they tried to determine how resistant the microorganisms that lived there were to bacteria.
After collecting hundreds of endemic bacteria, they found that about 20 were completely unknown and had “hyper resistance” characteristics, Marcoleta explained to AFP.
To determine their incredible immunity, the scientists developed 12 samples and exposed them to various types of antibiotics used to treat infectious diseases, as well as bacteria with anti-bacterial properties such as copper, arsenic or cadmium.
“Practically no antibiotics have had any effect on these bacteria. They have numerous immunomodulatory properties. Perhaps this resistance helps them in their natural environment to resist other toxic compounds,” Marcoleta said.
“Many of them (bacteria) are resistant to classic antibiotics or produce a metabolite that we are in the process of forming, and have antibiotic activity against certain bacteria of clinical interest,” Drs. Varas added.
Scientists were concerned about this new finding because “we are increasingly finding infections caused by bacteria that are highly resistant to the substances available today to treat these infections,” Marcoleta added.
‘Superbug’ infections will kill 1.2 million people in 2019, according to a study published in January in the popular British medical journal. Lancet.
Meanwhile, in the context of antimicrobial resistance, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health crisis and created a working group to study alternative therapies.
“This resistance of Antarctic bacteria can be acquired by pathogenic bacteria (which cause diseases), which can cause serious health problems globally,” the study, published in the journal, suggests. Science of the Total Environment.
Marcoleta explains that the soil of the Antarctic Peninsula includes bacteria of particular interest, such as Pseudomonas, and relatives of others living in urban areas responsible for serious diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
But how can these bacteria be harmful to humans?
“Fortunately, all indications are that the so-called Pseudomonas antarctica is not pathogenic, but acts as a source of immune genes and is relatively easily transmitted to pathogenic Pseudomonas,” the study added.
In this case, he warns, “we will have a health problem because there will be new immune genes that cause this crisis of antimicrobial immunity.”
Experts say that knowing the genes of these bacteria found in Antarctica will also help in the design of possible new antibiotics.
Bacteria and climate change
Scientists have begun a new study trying to determine how these bacteria could be transported from Antarctica to other parts of the world.
“The Antarctic Peninsula, where we continue our research, is one of the most vulnerable areas to climate change,” says Marcoleta.
Every year, at an intense rate, the soil melts and exposes reservoirs of immune genes.
The researchers hope to determine how this condition affects the bacteria and whether their genetic information is transmitted by plants or animals.
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