Harmless soil bacteria are trading weapons with those that kill us

By Ed Yong | August 31, 2012 11:51 am

There are bacteria in the soil that can resist our antibiotics. That’s predictable – these drugs are our versions of natural compounds that bacteria have been assaulted with for millions of years. Of course, they would have evolved resistance.

There are also disease-causing bacteria in our hospitals and clinics that can resist our antibiotics. That’s predictable too – we expose ourselves, often unnecessarily, to high doses of such drugs. Of course, bacteria would have evolved resistance.

Here’s something fascinating though: some of the genes that confer resistance to the harmless soil bacteria are exactly the same as the ones that confer resistance to the devastating clinical ones. Exactly the same, DNA letter for DNA letter.

This new discovery, by Gautam Dantas, suggests that environmental bacteria may be supplying genetic weapons to the ones that kill us (or the other way around). I’ve written about this secret arms trade for The Scientist. Check it out.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Bacteria, Microbiome

Comments (1)

  1. KN

    Based on one of your earlier posts on the effects of antibiotics, it is also possible that this trade, and the ensuing resistance, allows some of our beneficial gut bacteria to stay on after antibiotic ingestion, and thus help us survive. It is an “arms trade” only if you see the microbiome in black and white (i.e the harmless and the harmful).

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