NEW DELHI: Nearly a decade after it was first identified in a Swedish patient in New Delhi, scientists have found a deadly antibiotic-resistant gene 12,874 km away in the remote Arctic region.
The superbug gene, ‘blaNDM-1’ has a strong resistance mechanism as it produces an enzyme called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1), which makes bacteria resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics. It poses a serious healthcare concern as these infections become difficult to treat and can cause death.
Scientists had in 2013 collected soil samples from the pristine glacial valley of Kongsfjorden in Svalbard, an island about halfway between Norway and North Pole and are amazed that the gene has travelled to Arctic so quickly.
“Polar regions are among the last presumed pristine ecosystems. However, less than three years after the blaNDM-1 gene in the surface waters of urban India (2010), we are finding them thousands of miles away in an area where there has been minimal human impact," said Professor David Graham from Newcastle University, UK.
The study has serious implications in the fight against bacterial infections, given the rapid spread of multi-drug resistance.
More than 700,000 people die every year because of overall antibiotic resistance globally. In India, data is scarce. However, doctors pointed out that the mortality rate is high in acquired infections in healthcare settings, especially among cancer patients, critical care patients, and those undergoing organ transplants or regular dialysis in hospitals.
“The concerns regarding antibiotic resistance are serious. The bacteria are naturally developing resistance even in the remotest places such as the Arctic, and the abuse of antibiotics across the globe is aggravating the problem," said Dr V. Balaji, professor of clinical microbiology at Christian Medical College, Vellore.
Scientists also found 130 other antibiotic resistance genes, including one that confers multi-drug resistance in tuberculosis. These could have spread in faecal matter of birds, other wildlife, and human visitors, the study said.
Dr Abdul Ghaffur, who co-ordinated the Chennai Declaration to tackle antibiotic resistance, said the focus should not only be on NDM-1 but also on other deadly genes, including the colistin resistant gene, which can also have serious consequences.