Antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) that were originally detected in bacteria from India were found 8,000 miles away in the remote Arctic.
Superbug Genes Reach The Arctic
The findings, published in the academic journal Environmental International, show that even the most pristine environments on Earth are now being colonized by superbugs.
Study researcher David Graham, from the Newcastle University, and colleagues reported that soil samples taken in the Kongsfjorden region of Svalbard confirmed the presence of blaNDM-1 in the High Arctic.
Graham and colleagues detected a total of 131 ARGs from 40 soil cores at eight locations along Kongsfjorden.
BlaNDM-1, an ARG carried in the gut of animals and people, can conditionally provide multidrug resistance (MDR) in microorganisms.
The spread of blaNDM-1 and other MDR genes worldwide is a growing concern because they often target the so-called last resort classes of antibiotics such as Carbapenems.
Strains that carry this superbug gene were first found in clinical settings in India in 2008. Two years later, the surface waters in Delhi tested positive for blaNDM-1. Since then, the gene and its new variants have spread in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Spread By Fecal Matters Of Animals And Humans
Graham said blaNDM-1 and other medically important ARG that were found in the Arctic soil were possibly spread by the fecal matters of birds, wildlife, and even humans who visit the area.
"We are finding them thousands of miles away in an area where there has been minimal human impact," Graham said.
"Encroachment into areas like the Arctic reinforces how rapid and far-reaching the spread of antibiotic resistance has become, confirming solutions to AR must be viewed in global rather than just local terms."
Bacteria become drug resistant as a result of inappropriate use of antibiotics, such as when people take incorrect doses or unnecessarily take antibiotics for viral infections. Use of antibiotics in livestock production is also being blamed for the rise of superbugs.
According to a report from Public Health England released in October, antibiotic resistant superbugs could threaten 3 million surgeries in the UK alone.