A bowl of ice cream on a hot day in Shanghai gave American Mitchell Weinberg the worst bout of food poisoning he can recall. It also inspired the then-trade consultant to set up Inscatech — a global network of food spies.
In demand by multinational retailers and food producers, Inscatech and its agents scour supply chains around the world hunting for evidence of food industry fraud and malpractice. In the eight years since he founded the New York-based firm, Weinberg, 52, says China continues to be a key growth area for fraudsters as well as those developing technologies trying to counter them.
“Statistically we’re uncovering fraud about 70 percent of the time, but in China it’s very close to 100 percent,” he said. “It’s pervasive, it’s across food groups, and it’s anything you can possibly imagine.”
While adulteration has been a bugbear of consumers since prehistoric wine was first diluted with saltwater, scandals in China over the past decade — from melamine-laced baby formula, to rat-meat dressed as lamb — have seen the planet’s largest food-producing and consuming nation become a hotbed of corrupted, counterfeit, and contaminated food.
Weinberg’s company is developing molecular markers and genetic fingerprints to help authenticate natural products and sort genuine foodstuffs from the fakes. Another approach companies are pursuing uses digital technology to track and record the provenance of food from farm to plate.
“Consumers want to know where products are from,” said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group, citing surveys the Shanghai-based consultancy conducted with consumers and supermarket operators.
Services that help companies mitigate the reputational risk that food-fraud poses is a “big growth area,” according to Rein. “It’s a great business opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to be important not just as a China play, but as a global play, because Chinese food companies are becoming part of the whole global supply chain.”
Some of the biggest food companies are backing technology that grew out of the anarchic world of crypto-currencies. It’s called blockchain, essentially a shared, cryptographically secure ledger of transactions.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer (and source off the terrible graphic, above, right), was one of the first to get on board, just completing a trial using blockchain technology to track pork in China, where it has more than 400 stores. The time taken to track the meat’s supply chain was cut from 26 hours to just seconds using blockchain, and the scope of the project is being widened to other products, said Frank Yiannas, Wal-Mart’s vice president for food safety, in an interview Thursday.
But will it be advertised at retail, or just some faith consumers will be forced to rely on.
Real transparency means reals data, shared publicly; it’s not a matter of faith.
The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has detected Shiga toxin producing E. coli (STEC) in four unpasteurized milk products.
Mattilsynet said 82 unpasteurized milk products were examined and STEC was isolated from three products from Norwegian companies and a French cheese. Stx genes were also detected in 20 samples.
E. coli O-, stx2a was found in a Norwegian-produced soft red cheese of cow’s milk and rømme (a type of blue cheese) and E. coli O26, Stx1 and eae was in fresh cheese from goat milk. E. coli O113, stx2d was detected in French chèvre.
Lyrics to the Doors’ song below are sorta dumb, but a great guitar solo that still sends shivers up and down my spine. And Campy, it keeps on risin.’
Campylobacter is the most frequently occurring cause of bacterial gastroenteritis in Europe. Unlike other zoonotic diseases, European-wide incidences of Campylobacter infections have increased during the past decade, resulting in a significant disease burden. In Denmark, campylobacteriosis is notifiable by laboratory and a unique registration system of electronic transfer and storage of notified Campylobacter cases linked to the national person register of age, gender and geographical location allows collection of comprehensive case data.
Using national surveillance data, we describe Campylobacter infections in Denmark from 2000 to 2015, focusing on age-specific incidences, geography, seasonality and outbreaks. During the observed period, a total of 60,725 Campylobacter infections were registered with a mean annual incidence of 69.3 cases/100,000 population. From 2000 to 2014, the incidence of campylobacteriosis decreased by 20%, followed by an apparent increase of 20% from 2014 to 2015. Approximately one-third of cases were travel-related. Incidences were highest in males, young adults aged 20–29 years and children under 5 years of age. Generally, children under 10 years of age living in rural areas were at higher risk of infection. Infection patterns were seasonal with an increase from May to October, peaking in August. Outbreaks were identified each year, including four large waterborne outbreaks which all occurred following heavy rainfall events. For the most part, patterns of Campylobacter infection in Denmark during 2000 to 2015 remained remarkably constant and followed what is known about the disease with respect to demographic, temporal and spatial characteristics.
To establish better targeted prevention and control measures, the current knowledge gaps regarding both Campylobacter microbiology (degree of clonal diversity and clustering) and the importance of different risk factors (food versus environment/climate) need to be filled.
Epidemiology of campylobacteriosis in Denmark 2000–2015
This paper introduces a novel method for sampling pathogens in natural environments. It uses fabric boot socks worn over walkers’ shoes to allow the collection of composite samples over large areas. Wide-area sampling is better suited to studies focusing on human exposure to pathogens (e.g., recreational walking).
This sampling method is implemented using a citizen science approach: groups of three walkers wearing boot socks undertook one of six routes, 40 times over 16 months in the North West (NW) and East Anglian (EA) regions of England.
To validate this methodology, we report the successful implementation of this citizen science approach, the observation that Campylobacter bacteria were detected on 47% of boot socks, and the observation that multiple boot socks from individual walks produced consistent results. The findings indicate higher Campylobacter levels in the livestock-dominated NW than in EA (55.8% versus 38.6%). Seasonal differences in the presence of Campylobacter bacteria were found between the regions, with indications of winter peaks in both regions but a spring peak in the NW. The presence of Campylobacter bacteria on boot socks was negatively associated with ambient temperature (P = 0.011) and positively associated with precipitation (P < 0.001), results consistent with our understanding of Campylobacter survival and the probability of material adhering to boot socks. Campylobacter jejuni was the predominant species found; Campylobacter coli was largely restricted to the livestock-dominated NW. Source attribution analysis indicated that the potential source of C. jejuni was predominantly sheep in the NW and wild birds in EA but did not differ between peak and nonpeak periods of human incidence.
Novel sampling method for assessing human-pathogen interactions in the natural environment using boot socks and citizen scientists, with application to campylobacter seasonality
In June 2012, the Oregon Health Authority and the Washington State Department of Health noted an increase in the number of Salmonella enterica serotype Heidelberg clinical isolates sharing an identical pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern. In 2004, this pattern had been linked to chicken from Foster Farms by the Washington State Department of Health; preliminary 2012 interviews with infected persons also indicated exposure to Foster Farms chicken.
This large outbreak of foodborne salmonellosis demonstrated the complexity of investigating outbreaks linked to poultry products. The outbreak also highlighted the importance of efforts to strengthen food safety policies related to Salmonella in the chicken parts and has implications for future changes within the poultry industry.
To investigate a large multistate outbreak of multidrug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg infections.
Epidemiologic and laboratory investigations of patients infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelburg and traceback of possible food exposures.
United States. Outbreak period was March 1, 2013 through July 11, 2014
A case was defined as illness in a person infected with a laboratory-confirmed Salmonella Heidelburg with 1 of 7 outbreak pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) Xbal pattern with illness onset from March 1, 2013 through July 11, 2014. A total of 634 case-patients were identified through passive surveillance; 200/528 (38%) were hospitalized, none died.
Interviews were conducted with 435 case-patients interviewed with a focused questionnaire, 201 (74%) reported eating chicken prepared at home. Among case-patients with available brand information, 152 (87%) of 175 patients reported consuming Company A brand chicken. Antimicrobial susceptibility testing was completed on 69 clinical isolates collected from case-patients; 67% were drug resistant, including 24 isolates (35%) that were multidrug resistant. The source of Company A brand chicken consumed by case-patients was traced back to 3 California production establishments from which 6 of 7 outbreak strains were isolated.
Epidemiologic, laboratory, traceback, and environmental investigations conducted by local state, and federal public health and regulatory officials indicated that consumption of Company A chicken was the cause of this outbreak. The outbreak involved multiple PFGE patterns, a variety of chicken products, and 3 production establishments, suggesting a reservoir for contamination upstream from the production establishments. Sources of bacteria and genes responsible for resistance, such as farms providing birds for slaughter environmental reservoir on farms that raise chickens, might explain how multiple PFGE patterns were linked to chicken form 3 separate production establishments and many different poultry products.
National outbreak of multidrug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg infections linked to a single poultry company
Why did I write the other day about an artificial intelligence dude who I knew 25 years ago, and whose primary application at the time was ensuring elevators in skyscrapers were efficiently dispersed to floors that needed them – oh, and vision?
Because he made the N.Y Times with an hyperbaric headline about making Toronto a high-tech hotbed (he didn’t write the headline) and because his AI basics are making their way into food safety.
Caroline Diana of Inquisitr writes IBM and Cornell University, which primarily focuses on dairy research, will make use of artificial intelligence (AI) to make dairy safe(r) for consumption.
By sequencing and analyzing the DNA and RNA of food microbiomes, researchers plan to create new tools that can help monitor raw milk to detect anomalies that represent food safety hazards and possible fraud.
While many food producers already have rigorous processes in place to ensure food safety hazards are managed appropriately, this pioneering application of genomics will be designed to enable a deeper understanding and characterization of microorganisms on a much larger scale than has previously been possible.
Only a PR thingy could have written this paragraph: “This work could eventually be extended to the larger context of the food supply chain — from farm to fork — and, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, may lead to new insights into how microorganisms interact within a particular environment. A carefully designed informatics infrastructure developed in the IBM Accelerated Discovery Lab, a data and analytics hub for IBM researchers and their clients and partners, will help the team parse and aggregate terabytes of genomic data.”
Better than a poorly designed informatics infrastructure.
(Thanks to a Brisbane-based colleague and barfblog.com fan who passed this along.)
In April 2015, Finnish public health authorities alerted European Union member states of a possible multi-country Salmonella enteritidis outbreak linked to an international youth ice-hockey tournament in Latvia.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Finnish and Latvian authorities initiated an outbreak investigation to identify the source. The investigation included a description of the outbreak, retrospective cohort study, microbiological investigation and trace-back. We identified 154 suspected and 96 confirmed cases from seven countries.
Consuming Bolognese sauce and salad at a specific event arena significantly increased the risk of illness. Isolates from Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian cases had an identical multiple-locus variable-number of tandem repeats analysis-profile (3-10-6-4-1).
Breaches in hygiene and food storing practices in the specific arena’s kitchen allowing for cross-contamination were identified. Riga Cup participants were recommended to follow good hand hygiene and consume only freshly cooked foods.
This investigation demonstrated that the use of ECDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Information System for Food- and Waterborne Diseases and Zoonoses platform was essential to progress the investigation by facilitating information exchange between countries. Cross-border data sharing to perform whole genome sequencing gave relevant information regarding the source of the outbreak.
Multi-country outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis infection linked to the international ice hockey tournament
Epidemiology and Infection, pages 1-10, 14 Jun 2017, Pärn T, Dahl V, Lienemann T, Perevosčikovs J, DE Jong B
In 1993, I thought the consummation of Hollywood and Nashville was complete when starlet Julia Roberts wed country music’s ugly duckling, Lyle Lovett.
They divorced less than two years later.
As the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs progressed, the last-seeded Nashville Predators demolished foe-after-foe, with star couple captain Mike Fischer and partner Carrie Underwood paving the way for another coupling of the weirdness and greatness that is America: Nashville and Smashville.
But I don’t think that Hank do it like that.
It didn’t happen, as Nashville finally lost to Pittsburgh in 6-games to close out a grueling National Hockey League season.
I write this while watching Sorenne and Amy on the ice, taking extra skating lessons, in the sub-tropics of Brisbane, as likely a hockey hotspot as Nashville.
Amy is happy Pittsburgh won because, she hates country music.
But baby … Lyle isn’t country, he’s something different.
I’ve been to Nashville several times, hung out on Music Row, hung out a Titans tailgate, and saw Lyle Lovett one night and John Prine the next at the Ryman Auditorium, The Mother Church of Country Music.
Now that my Nashville Predators have lost the Stanley Cup in a valiant, country-heartbreak ballad to Pittsburgh, I return to the more mundane mattes of foodborne illness.
PulseNet International advocates for public health institutes and laboratories around the world to move together towards the use of whole genome sequencing (WGS) to improve detection of and response to foodborne illnesses and outbreaks in the latest edition of Eurosurveillance.
PulseNet International is a global network of public health laboratory networks, dedicated to bacterial foodborne disease surveillance. The network is comprised of the national and regional laboratory networks of USA, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Middle-East and Asia Pacific.
Mike Catchpole, Chief Scientist at ECDC says, “it is important for all partners worldwide to continue to work together towards the implementation and standardised analysis of whole genome sequencing.”
The article also states that a global standard method for primary sequence data analysis based on whole genome Multiple Locus Sequence Typing (wgMLST) and derived public nomenclature will be adopted.
This will facilitate the sharing of information within regional and global public health laboratory networks, increasing efficiency and enabling data to be compared across countries in real-time which is currently not the case. This is especially important due to international travel and trade.
Common steps for validation studies, development of standardised protocols, quality assurance programmes and nomenclature have been agreed.
Pulsenet international: Vision for the implementation of whole genome sequencing (WGS) for global food-borne disease surveillance
Eurosurveillance, vol. 22, issue, 23, 08 June 2017, C Nadon , I Van Walle, P Gerner-Smidt, J Campos, Chinen, J Concepcion-Acevedo, B Gilpin, AM Smith, KM Kam, E Perez, E Trees, K Kubota, J Takkinen, EM Nielsen, H Carleton, FWD-NEXT Expert Panel, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2017.22.23.30544
PulseNet International is a global network dedicated to laboratory-based surveillance for food-borne diseases. The network comprises the national and regional laboratory networks of Africa, Asia Pacific, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the United States. The PulseNet International vision is the standardised use of whole genome sequencing (WGS) to identify and subtype food-borne bacterial pathogens worldwide, replacing traditional methods to strengthen preparedness and response, reduce global social and economic disease burden, and save lives. To meet the needs of real-time surveillance, the PulseNet International network will standardise subtyping via WGS using whole genome multilocus sequence typing (wgMLST), which delivers sufficiently high resolution and epidemiological concordance, plus unambiguous nomenclature for the purposes of surveillance. Standardised protocols, validation studies, quality control programmes, database and nomenclature development, and training should support the implementation and decentralisation of WGS. Ideally, WGS data collected for surveillance purposes should be publicly available, in real time where possible, respecting data protection policies. WGS data are suitable for surveillance and outbreak purposes and for answering scientific questions pertaining to source attribution, antimicrobial resistance, transmission patterns, and virulence, which will further enable the protection and improvement of public health with respect to food-borne disease.
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) for food-borne pathogen surveillance and control- Taking the pulse
Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is transforming microbiology . With the increased accessibility and decrease in the costs of sequencing and the optimisation of the ‘wet laboratory’ components of NGS i.e. the quality and throughput of DNA extraction, library preparation and sequencing reactions, whole genome sequencing (WGS) of bacterial isolates is rapidly revolutionising clinical and public health microbiology. WGS is a ‘disruptive technology’ that has the potential to become a one-stop-shop for routine bacterial analysis. By replacing multiple parallel steps in the microbiology diagnostic cycle, which currently involves traditional and molecular methods, it achieves accurate and speedy species identification, inference of antimicrobial susceptibility and virulence and high-resolution subtyping .
Typing of food-borne pathogens was one of the earliest applications of WGS  and proof-of-concept has been demonstrated for the superiority of WGS over traditional typing methods such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), multilocus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA) and multilocus sequence typing (MLST), for a range of high priority food-borne pathogens, including Salmonella enterica, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter species and Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli . Applications of WGS include the investigation of food-related outbreaks and surveillance to delineate the local, regional and global genomic epidemiology of pathogens and to attribute the infection source. WGS thus supports risk assessment and guides interventions for prevention and control of infections.
A growing number of (public health microbiology) laboratories and governmental agencies employ WGS in their routine practice and food-borne pathogen surveillance and even more are expected to enter this field in the near future. Thus the maturation of food-borne pathogen surveillance into the WGS era is very timely.
In order for WGS to be adopted as the new gold standard for tracking of food-borne pathogens, a key element of food-borne disease control, there is a need for robust, standardised, portable and scalable methods for analysing WGS data. However, the notable diversity of bioinformatics tools and approaches used for bacterial WGS to date, as evident from a recent survey by the Global Microbial Identifier project , creates a tremendous challenge for harmonising surveillance and investigation of food-borne illness, especially across geographical borders and different sectors. Calling variants based on analysis of single nt polymorphisms (SNPs) as it is being done in many food-borne outbreak investigations, offers maximal resolution and discriminatory power but is very difficult to standardise. Therefore, approaches based on gene-by-gene analyses, collectively referred to as ‘extended MLST’, such as core genome (cg) or whole genome (wg)MLST may be advantageous , and have been advocated in other public health settings, such as Legionnaires’ disease control .
PulseNet was established in the United States (US) more than 20 years ago as a laboratory network for molecular epidemiology based on standardised PFGE analysis and later expanded globally. PulseNet has been successful in engaging many players in the field of food safety on a global scale and in creating a platform for data sharing and comparison of clinical, veterinary and food isolates in over 80 countries and it has a proven track-record in supporting molecular surveillance . Nevertheless, some issues remained unresolved such as creation and implementation of a global nomenclature, which is important for communicating molecular epidemiology results, both scientifically as well as operationally.
In this issue of Eurosurveillance, an article by Nadon et al.  describes the next generation of PulseNet International, which is evolving into harnessing WGS. This initiative represents a wide collaboration between many leading agencies and stakeholders in this area, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Public Health Agency Canada (PHAC), just to name a few. The authors illustrate the technical and practical aspects of adapting the network. Notably, PulseNet International has chosen an extended MLST approach, specifically, wgMLST, as its default phylogenetic analysis tool, which should underpin a standardised and efficient nomenclature-based system. Different technical and practical aspects are reviewed and discussed, mainly focusing on information technology (IT) and bioinformatics aspects (data storage, computing power, nomenclature, data sharing), methods for validation and quality control/quality assurance. Nadon et al. highlight complexities surrounding the implementation of WGS for food-borne disease surveillance, with respect to readiness at individual country and regional levels and delineate how PulseNet plans to address these.
The evolution of PulseNet International is very encouraging and will reinforce the use of NGS in the area of food safety. That said, challenges remain that need to be addressed by the public health community. There is a need for user-friendly bioinformatics solutions that will enable automated analysis of bacterial genomes by non-experts in bioinformatics to extract valuable information in a time-efficient manner. Such solutions should offer as much backwards compatibility as possible with current typing methods since the global transition to WGS is expected to be gradual. It should also offer an efficient strain/allele nomenclature that facilitates inter-laboratory work. Moreover, bioinformatics solutions should also factor in the developments in the field of DNA sequencing, particularly long-read single molecule sequencing platforms and portable sequencing devices which are increasingly being used. While WGS of food-borne pathogens has now become the new gold standard for food-borne pathogen typing, other techniques such as strain typing and characterisation using proteomics (particularly matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation (MALDI) time-of-flight (TOF) mass spectroscopy) or DNA arrays are rapidly evolving and should be carefully evaluated . The field of metagenomics is also rapidly advancing and culture-independent microbiology, enabling genomic analysis of pathogens directly from sequenced clinical or environmental samples (as opposed to cultured isolates), is just around the corner . When laying the foundations for global food pathogen surveillance networks for the coming years, we need to be mindful of such future developments.
Different from current protocols in which only typing results are shared, the transition to genome-based surveillance inevitably involves the sharing of complete sequence data. This has many implications, not only with respect to data storage, analysis and sharing infrastructures, but also aspects such as data ownership, privacy and transparency, pertaining to both genomic sequences and the related metadata. These issues should be proactively addressed in order to provide reassurance concerning data protection and create flexible solutions that will facilitate the timely sharing of public health data by as many partners as possible.
Finally, the transition to WGS-based surveillance needs to ensure sufficient quality is maintained in order to meet national and international regulatory requirements. Nadon et al. rightfully emphasise in their paper, the importance of validation, quality control and standardisation. One major aspect in making this transition and that needs to be considered is the human factor. The successful implementation of WGS-based surveillance on a global scale requires careful planning, building of capacity and training of public health and microbiology personnel to develop local readiness, especially in limited resource settings. Care should be taken to address the ‘softer’ issues, including possible cultural, political and cross-sector barriers, which together with economical, management and operational aspects could greatly influence the successful implementation of WGS.
This is a fascinating time for public health microbiology, and initiatives such as the integration of WGS as proposed by PulseNet International, are central for leveraging recent technological advancements for the benefit of public health surveillance.
FIU says that if you have ever suffered from food poisoning, you will appreciate why it is so important to inspect food before it reaches the consumer. Food producers have to check for bacteria and signs of contamination before they are able to ship out any perishable food. Some common bacteria that can lead to foodborne illnesses include E.coli, salmonella and listeria. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, one in six Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, that is forty-eight million people, out of whom 128,000 are hospitalized.
Typically, the inspection process, which involves putting samples in a solution and placing it in an incubator to see if bacteria grows, takes anywhere from 18 hours to several days. The reason is that it takes time for bacteria to grow at detectable levels. Current detection techniques are limited – you may need about 1,000 to a million bacteria present, depending on the technique, in a small volume before bacteria can be successfully detected. To reach that level, it takes time.
With this new device, food producers are able to run the whole solution through a smaller container inside the incubator oven. Antibodies in the device capture the target bacteria. This procedure allows bacteria to be concentrated in a smaller volume enabling same day detection.
“We are focused on helping food producers reduce storage cost and get fresher food to consumers,” Gaitas says. “We are addressing a major and well documented need in a very large market. There are about 1.2 billion food tests conducted worldwide and about 220 million tests in the United States.”
By shortening the detection time by one day, the team believes that the device can save the food industry billions. For example, meat producers, as a collective industry, could save up to $3 billion in storage costs by shortening the detection to one day. This device can also be used to expedite the detection of bloodborne illnesses such as sepsis and viral infections; however, currently the commercial focus is on food due to the lower barriers to entry.
Gaitas formed a company, Kytaro Inc – an FIU startup – which spent the last few years creating and testing the device and publishing the results in scientific journals. Besides Gaitas and Kim, the company has been employing FIU undergraduates.
FIU notes that this April, with the support of Henry Artigues of the Office of Research and Economic Development and Shekhar Bhansali, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Kytaro was recognized as one of “40 Best University Startups 2017” at the University Startups Conference and Demo Day in Washington, D.C. About 200 startups applied to the national competition.
Peter Andrey Smith of the New York Times writes that on a recent trip, Cliff Kapono hit some of the more popular surf breaks in Ireland, England and Morocco. He’s proudly Native Hawaiian and no stranger to the hunt for the perfect wave. But this time he was chasing something even more unusual: microbial swabs from fellow surfers.
Mr. Kapono, a 29-year-old biochemist earning his doctorate at the University of California, San Diego, heads up the Surfer Biome Project, a unique effort to determine whether routine exposure to the ocean alters the microbial communities of the body, and whether those alterations might have consequences for surfers — and for the rest of us.
Mr. Kapono has collected more than 500 samples by rubbing cotton-tipped swabs over the heads, mouths, navels and other parts of surfers’ bodies, as well as their boards. Volunteers also donate a fecal sample.
He uses mass spectrometry to create high-resolution maps of the chemical metabolites found in each sample. “We have the ability to see the molecular world, whether it’s bacteria or a fungus or the chemical molecules,” he said.
Then, working in collaboration with U.C.S.D.’s Center for Microbiome Innovation — a quick jaunt across the quad from his lab — Mr. Kapono and his colleagues sequence and map the microbes found on this unusually amphibious demographic.
He and his colleagues are looking for signs of antibiotic-resistant organisms. Part of their aim is to determine whether, and to what extent, the ocean spreads the genes for resistance.
Many antibiotics used today derive from chemicals produced by microbes to defend themselves or to attack other microorganisms. No surprise, then, that strains of competing bacteria have also evolved the genetic means to shrug off these chemicals.
While drug resistance comes about because of antibiotic overuse, the genes responsible for creating resistance are widely disseminated in nature and have been evolving in microbes for eons. Startlingly, that means genes giving rise to drug resistance can be found in places untouched by modern antibiotics.
Several years ago, researchers identified antibiotic-resistant genes in a sample of ancient permafrost from Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, was among those showing that these genes conferred a resistance to amikacin, a semi-synthetic drug that did not exist before the 1970s.
“There was a gene that encoded resistance to it in something that was alive 6,000 years ago,” he said in an interview.
Another group led by Hazel Barton, a microbiologist at the University of Akron, discovered microorganisms harboring antibiotic-resistance genes in the Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico. These bacteria, called Paenibacillus sp. LC231, have been isolated from Earth’s surface for four million years, yet testing showed they were capable of fending off 26 of 40 modern antibiotics.
It’s all cool research, but all I could think of was Celebrity, a skit by The Kids in the Hall.