Partly due to natural processes and partly because of the overuse or misuse of antibiotics , many dangerous bacterial strains have become even more threatening by developing resistance to certain antibiotics, the drugs that doctors usually prescribe to treat bacterial infections.
Such potent bacteria, also dubbed “superbugs,” are reportedly responsible for thousands of deaths each year, both across Europe and in the US.
Prof. Jennifer Roberts from the University of Kansas in Lawrence recently led a team carrying out a study of thawing permafrost in the remote High Arctic of Norway.
The team’s initial purpose was to understand how the methane gas that this melting ice releases may relate to climate change on a global level.
However, when the researchers were analyzing soil samples from the Kongsfjorden region of Svalbard in Norway, where they were based, they found something that surprised and alarmed them: a host of superbugs that, by all accounts, should not have been living there.
“The study offered a good opportunity to test soil samples for antibiotic genes with the hypothesis that Svalbard was such a remote and isolated place, we wouldn’t find any evidence of such genes,” says Prof. Roberts.
“In contrast,” she notes, “we found quite a few, including superbug antibiotic-resistant genes like the New Delhi gene, which first emerged in India not very long ago. This was a surprise — the genes we found clearly had a short transfer time between being discovered in India and our group detecting them in the Arctic only a few years later.”
The scientists recount their finding and the implications of this discovery in a new study paper that appears in the journal Environment International.