Spelunking to the Source of the Superbug

Lechuguilla Cave located in New Mexico has been reported as a site of anti-biotic resistant bacteria.  This cave is one of the most isolated caves in the world, and the finding of these mutated bacteria could mean big things for the fight against the “superbug”.

Researchers from McMaster and the University of Akron have recently discovered the foreign strains of bacteria within the Lechuguilla Cave.  These bacteria do not cause human disease; however, when exposed to antibiotics that physicians use to treat the common bacteria in hospitals, the new cave bacteria were still resistant.

So what does this all mean?

Gerry Wright, the director of Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research explained to  Science Daily. “Our study shows that antibiotic resistance is hard-wired into bacteria. It could be billions of years old, but we have only been trying to understand it for the last 70 years. This has important clinical implications. It suggests that there are far more antibiotics in the environment that could be found and used to treat currently untreatable infections.”

Certain strains of Staphylococcus are known as “superbugs”, a multi-drug resistant bacteria that physicians have trouble treating in hospitals.  How these superbugs are becoming resistant to so many different types of antibiotics has been a topic of microbiology research for about the past 70 years.  A large problem with these bugs is that when it comes to treating them, the physicians have to resort to removing the infected tissue. As most would assume, this is not the ideal way to treat these pesky infections.

Lechuguilla Cave was the perfect environment for researchers to have exposure to bacteria that have not been exposed to the antibiotics that flow freely throughout or environment.  The cave is a concealed place, so although the bacteria do not cause harm to humans, they are still changing and becoming resistant to the antibiotics that are used in treatments.

Wright told Science Daily “The actual source of much of this resistance is harmless bacteria that live in the environment.”

Finding these bacteria within this cave give researchers a new light on why and how these bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics and that there may be more antibiotics that nature is providing us that we have not honed into yet.




Kirandeep Bhullar, Nicholas Waglechner, Andrew Pawlowski, Kalinka Koteva, Eric D. Banks, Michael D. Johnston, Hazel A. Barton, Gerard D. Wright. Antibiotic Resistance Is Prevalent in an Isolated Cave Microbiome. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (4): e34953 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034953

McMaster University. “Key to new antibiotics could be deep within isolated cave.” ScienceDaily, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.

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