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4 million-year-old bacteria found in New Mexico is immune to antibiotics...for now

HOTtopic041212_optBY TERI GATTO
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

A four-million-year-old cave in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to almost one hundred ancient bacteria which are immune to modern antibiotics, reports National Geographic.

Microbiologists found the bacteria on the walls of the Lechuguilla cavern, one of the world’s longest caves. The structure of the cave kept the tiny life forms isolated — in some areas as deep as 1,600 feet below the earth surface — for millions of years.

And while scientists say that these microorganisms are not dangerous to humans, they did find that the bacterium is resistant to many classes of antibiotics, including synthetic antibiotics.

Scientists hope that the newly found microscopic life forms will help them understand how disease-causing bacteria develops a resistance to modern drugs.

"Clinical microbiologists have been perplexed for the longest time,” chemical biologist Gerry Wright told National Geographic. “When you bring a new antibiotic into the hospital, resistance inevitably appears shortly thereafter, within months to years."

The entrance of the cavern was first discovered in 1984, but scientists did not explore it until 1986, when Hazel Barton, a geomicrobiologist and her team entered the ancient cave to collect samples of the bacteria inside its walls.

The samples were then sent to Wright’s laboratory for testing.

"Hazel sampled sites clearly not touched by humans before. Because it's so pristine, you can see where people — all of the people — have walked," Wright told National Geographic. "It's a serious stretch of the imagination to think any of the sites sampled have seen significant impact by anything from the surface."

Wright hopes that studying the bacteria will help him discover the biological mechanisms that enable these microscopic organisms to fight 21st century antibiotics.

 

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