Study identifies previously unknown antibiotic resistance genes

Bacteria in Petri dishes

Genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics are much more widespread in our environment than was previously realised.

A new study, from Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, shows that bacteria in almost all environments carry resistance genes.

“We have identified new resistance genes in places where they have remained undetected until now. These genes can constitute an overlooked threat to human health,” says Erik Kristiansson, a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to global health. According to the UN Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (IACG) 700,000 people die each year from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The researchers found that resistance genes in bacteria that live on and in humans and in the environment were ten times more abundant than those previously known. And of the resistance genes found in bacteria in the human microbiome, 75% were not previously known at all.

“Prior to this study, there was no knowledge whatsoever about the incidence of these new resistance genes. Antibiotic resistance is a complex problem, and our study shows that we need to enhance our understanding of the development of resistance in bacteria and of the resistance genes that could constitute a threat in the future,” says Kristiansson.

The research team is currently working on integrating the new data into the international EMBARK project (Establishing a Monitoring Baseline for Antibiotic Resistance in Key environments).

The project aims to take samples from sources such as wastewater, soil and animals to get an idea of the way in which antibiotic resistance is spreading between humans and the environment.

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