A gene that transforms bacteria into antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" was found in Canada. The gene is called MCR-1, which creates an enzyme that can make bacteria undetectable to the last-resort and highly toxic antibiotic called colistin.
Tech Times already reported about MCR-1 in November 2015. The study, which alarmed medical groups around the world, found 260 E.coli samples with the MCR-1 gene on farm animals, meat and hospital patients in southeastern China.
What disturbed the scientific community the most was that the MCR-1 gene is found on a "free-floating" bit of DNA. This means the bacteria can easily share and re-share the DNA bit to other organisms.
To date, there have been no deaths linked to the appearance of the MCR-1 gene. People could be carrying the new superbug without causing any symptoms.
The worst case scenario is that the MCR-1 gene will extend to more dangerous bacterial strains that are also carrying other antibiotic-resistant genes. This could give birth to superbugs that cannot be defeated even by the strongest army of antibiotics.
MCR-1 Gene Found In Canada
Several countries have detected the MCR-1 genes in their bacterial samples ever since the study from China was published.
In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada launched an investigation in December 2015. The findings are not published yet, but Dr. Michael Mulvey, PHAC's Chief of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections, said that a case report has been sent to The Lancet.
Three previously collected E. coli samples revealed the presence of the MCR-1 gene. One of the samples came from the 62-year-old patient in Ottawa who allegedly contracted it in Egypt, where she resided for a few years, said Ottawa Hospital's Dr. Baldwin Toye.
Three days after the patient's return to Canada, she was hospitalized and treated for an abdominal infection. Toye then theorized that the patient's illness was due to the MCR-1 gene, which was reaffirmed after Mulvey's latest investigation.
Two other E. coli samples from the ground beef were sold in a grocery chain and a butcher shop in Ontario. The two samples were collected in 2010 and predated the ones collected in China in 2011 and 2014.
"To see it show up was a surprise for me. It supports that there's global dissemination of this gene already ... we're now going to have to look back even prior to (2010), because maybe it's been around for even longer," said Mulvey.
Resistance To Colistin
Colistin was first discovered in the 1940s, but due to its high toxicity and side effects, the antibiotic was immediately shelved and pushed back as a last-resort drug. Pharmaceutical companies continue to create better antibiotics, but just the same, bacteria also evolved to knock them down one by one.
Highly toxic colistin is rarely used as human medication so doctors' can preserve the effectiveness of the last standing antibiotic. Colistin belongs to an antibiotic group called polymyxins, which are often used in farm animals for growth and protection from diseases. China is the world's top user of agricultural colistin.
In 2015, there were nearly 12,000 tonnes (13227.74 tons) of agricultural colistin sold in the global market. Experts expect the growth to reach 16,500 tonnes (18188.14 tons) by 2021.
Unfortunately, the scientific community has already seen cases of colistin-resistant cases. In Canada, the ongoing hospital investigation dating back to 2010 has already discovered 13 samples of colistin-resistant bacteria.
Photo: Les Chatfield | Flickr