A study published in Nature, has rocked the very basis of our knowledge of antibiotic resistance by providing adequate substantiation for proving that antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon. The study has revealed that antibiotic resistance existed in microbes predating antibiotic discovery by man.

This has shaken the foundation of the antibiotic resistance science which has been founded on the knowledge that it was after the discovery and widespread use, and more often abuse, of antibiotics that bacteria developed antibiotic resistance for the first time.

The discovery of antibiotics is recent, not more than 70 years ago. So antibiotic resistance, as seen in microbes, should be a modern phenomenon. As an expansion to this, any microbes older than 70 years should be highly susceptible to antibiotics. As a result it should never have shown antibiotic resistance.

However, the present study has completely changed this notion.

Antibiotic resistance seen in microbes is not a surprising aspect since they are known to produce antibiotics naturally. “Roughly 80 per cent of antibiotics currently in the market are derived either directly or indirectly from bacteria that are found in the environment, mostly the soil,” stated Gerard D. Wright from McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada.

At the same time, there is an extremely surprising element in the current study. All the genes extracted from nearly 30,000-year-old microbes reveal the presence of resistance to many commonly used antibiotics such as tetracycline, beta-lactam, glycopeptides and vancomycin.

The natural question to be asked is that when bacteria already had antibiotic resistance toward drugs such as tetracycline and vancomycin which are used today, why did it take a while for antibiotic resistance to show up in clinical settings.

“We need to differentiate resistance in pathogenic bacteria here from environmental bacteria that do not usually cause disease,” said Dr. Wright. “Pathogens are generally quite antibiotic sensitive unless they acquire resistance genes from other sources.”

The microbes used for the study were collected from Dawson City, Yukon, Beringia (east of Alaska) permafrost sediments.

Further expansion on this study is expected. The fact is, with confirmation about the correctness of this study there will be a tremendous requirement for increasing the reliability of the preparations and handling mechanisms of the current and also new antibiotics.