After studying 30,000 year old sedimentary DNA from permafrost deposits in the Yukon a Canadian research team from the University of Alberta and McMaster University have found that microbes “have been building their defenses to antibiotics since the time of woolly mammoths.”
Their research findings published on August 31, 2011 in the science journal Nature show antibiotic resistance predates our modern clinical antibiotic use. The principal investigators for the study are Gerry Wright, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and Hendrik Poinar, McMaster evolutionary geneticist.
“Antibiotic resistance is seen as a current problem and the fact that antibiotics are becoming less effective because of resistance spreading in hospitals is a known fact,” said Wright. “The big question is where does all of this resistance come from?”
Duane Froese, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta mentions:
“The ancient DNA found in the permafrost shows that these microbes have been battling for survival against natural antibiotics for at least 30,000 years and represents evidence for the evolutionary back-story of the challenges of modern antibacterial resistance.”
The researchers isolated the DNA and discovered antibiotic resistant genes existed beside genes of ancient mammoths, horses and bison as well as plants that existed during the last interglacial period of the Pleistocene era 30,000 years ago. They focused on antibiotic resistance to the drug vancomycin which surfaced in the 1980’s and still continues to be associated with outbreaks of hospital-acquired infections around the world.
The team then recreated the gene product in the lab, purified its protein and showed that it had the same activity and structure then as it does now.”
“This is only the second time an ancient protein has been ‘revived’ in a laboratory setting.”
Wright said, “Antibiotics are part of the natural ecology of the planet so when we think that we have developed some drug that won’t be susceptible to resistance or some new thing to use in medicine, we are completely kidding ourselves. These things are part of our natural world and therefore we need to be incredibly careful in how we use them. Microorganisms have figured out a way of how to get around them well before we even figured out how to use them.”