In an article published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers from the University of Chilean explain how they collected soil samples from Antarctica between 2017 and 2019. When they returned to the laboratory, they were surprised by the rich diversity of microorganisms living in these harsh soils. Among them, they found genes that are resistant to several antibiotics and other antimicrobials, such as copper and chlorine. The genes have been found in various genera of bacteria, including Polaromonas, Pseudomonas, Streptomyces, Variovorax, and Burkholderia. Polaromonas are able to pump enzymes with the potential to inactivate beta-lactam antibiotics, which are necessary for the treatment of various infections. Antibiotic resistance is significantly accelerated by improper and excessive use. However, it is also possible that bacteria naturally develop mechanisms of antibiotic resistance. The authors of the latest study claim that the antibiotic resistance genes they discovered were most likely the result of the adaptation of bacteria to the extreme conditions of Antarctica. Andrés Marcoleta of the Faculty of Science of the University of Chile explains that this antibiotic resistance is found in mobile DNA fragments that can be easily transferred to other bacteria by horizontal gene transfer. “The idea that these genes could eventually reach bacteria that cause infections in humans or other animals, giving them more resistance, doesn’t seem unreasonable.” Photo gallery (2) Source: Getty Images According to Marcelot, the research should not cause panic. Yet. However, he stressed that the potential threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Antarctica is increasingly likely as human activity becomes an increasing burden on the continent. “We know that there is more and more people in transit between Antarctica and the rest of the world, especially through Chile. This creates potential opportunities for contact between microorganisms that colonize or infect humans and those that naturally inhabit the continents of the white continent,” he explained. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that microorganisms, especially pathogens, can cause effects with a global reach. In this sense, it is worth asking whether climate change may have an impact on the incidence of infectious diseases.
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