In an alarming discovery, researchers have found a new gene in animals and people of China that make bacteria resistant to a last-resort class of antibiotics. According to the researchers, the gene has also been discovered in a strain of bacteria with epidemic potential.
In a study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers report finding a gene called “mcr-1” on plasmid DNA, which inhibits polymyxins from killing the bacteria. Polymyxin is a class of antibiotics widely used in livestock farming and contains the drug colistin, Reuters reported. Plasmid DNA is a piece of DNA that can be easily copied and transmitted to other bacteria.
The research team led by Hua Liu of the South China Agricultural University believes that there is an alarming potential for the gene to be transferred to other strains of the bacterial population. Post discovery, the researchers have called for an urgent restriction on the use of polymyxins. The team said that its use should either be minimized or altogether ceased.
The BBC reported that the transfer of gene has already taken place bet ween different species and strains of bacteria, including Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The researchers have also reported of finding an evidence of the resistance spreading to Malaysia and Laos.
"All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality," said professor Timothy Walsh from the University of Cardiff, in an interview with The BBC. "If MRC-1 becomes global, which is a case of when, not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era."
Walsh further said that at this point if a person is seriously ill with a bacterial infection, there is nothing much that can be done.