Scientists in Antarctica have found strains of a “superpower” bacteria that could unleash the world’s next devastating pandemic.
Researchers discovered that the bacteria have built-in antibiotic resistance, which could render current treatments ineffective.
The discovery was uncovered by Chilean researchers while investigating how climate change would effect the propagation of germs that had been frozen in ice for thousands of years.
They cautioned that as a result of climate change, the bacteria will be able to spread outside the polar areas, potentially causing devastating repercussions.
The study, led by University of Chile researcher Andres Marcoleta, was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment in March.
Mobile DNA pieces, he claims, have “superpowers” that have developed to withstand severe environments and can be easily passed on to other bacteria.
“We know that the soils of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the polar places most damaged by melting ice, house a wide variety of bacteria, and that some of them could be a source of ancestral genes that confer antibiotic resistance,” Marcoleta said.
Between 2017 and 2019, university researchers obtained a variety of samples from the Antarctic Peninsula.
They were somewhat aback when they discovered that many of the germs were virtually indestructible.
The samples displayed unexpected adaptations and capacities, such as being highly resistant to the effects of numerous antibiotic classes and other harmful chemicals.
The researchers discovered that while Pseudomonas bacteria, one of the most abundant bacteria on the peninsula, are not pathogenic, they can be a source of “resistance genes” that are resistant to conventional disinfectants such as copper, chlorine, and quaternary ammonium.
According to Marcoleta, they also discovered that Polaromonas bacteria, which are similarly prevalent in polar conditions, have the “potential to inactivate beta-lactam type medications, which are vital for the treatment of various illnesses.”
“It’s worth considering whether climate change has an impact on the occurrence of infectious diseases,” the researcher stated.
“These genes could exit this reservoir and drive the emergence and spread of infectious diseases,” says the researcher.
“It does not seem unreasonable,” Marcoleta said, “that these genes could someday reach germs that cause diseases in humans or other animals, giving them stronger resistance capabilities.”
The findings, he said, should encourage scientists to predict the evolution of novel resistance mechanisms in infectious diseases and use that information to guide the development of new medicines.
However, he said that some of these bacteria’s features could have other vital biotechnological applications.
The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the researcher, “has taught us that microorganisms, particularly viruses, can have worldwide repercussions.” In this light, it’s worth considering if climate change has an impact on the spread of infectious diseases.”
One of the most well-known immediate repercussions of climate change is the melting of the North and South Poles.
The research will continue, and in a new larger-scale research initiative called “Anillo mBioClim,” it might be taken considerably farther.