Drug-resistant genes found floating in the air in China

By Laura Mize • Published: March 7th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Combating drug resistance is one of medicine’s greatest challenges, with some estimates saying that by 2050, about 10 million people will die each year from infections that are resistant to drugs.

Some resistance occurs naturally, but mostly it stems from overusing antibiotics. Bacteria become stronger as individual germs vulnerable to the medications being used die, leaving behind more robust germs that help create an increasingly drug-resistant strain. As these germs spread through their genes, other strains of bacteria can become drug resistant.

Geneticists from the University of Gothenburg recently performed a detailed analysis of 864 different DNA samples from people, animals and environmental sources in China. Their results, published in the journal Microbiome, showed that the samples contained a variety of genes that can make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Alarmingly, some of the samples pulled from the air were from areas surrounding a plant where antibiotics were being made. They were especially concerned that some of the genes they discovered in the air samples could contribute to resistance, especially to a group of so-called “last resort” antibiotics. The researchers also noted that waste from plants that manufacture antibiotics was found in nearby water sources, and they urged more regulations be considered on how these plants dispose of their wastewater.

The researchers stressed this does not mean people can get drug-resistant infections from the air, but that drug-resistant genes could be spread that way. Next, they intend to look at whether resistance genes can spread through the air from European sewage treatment plants.