The battle against superbugs is taking to the caves, as researchers find antibiotic- resistant bacteria in one of the deepest, most isolated caves in the world.
Researchers from McMaster and the University of Akron in the US travelled to the depths of New Mexico's Lechuguilla Cave to make the discovery. The cave has been completely absent of human contact until recently, owing to its depth and inaccessibility.
Finding that bacteria have engineered defences against antibiotics could be an indication of previously unknown, naturally occurring antibiotics that doctors could use to treat infections.
Gerry Wright and Hazel Barton from McMaster collected strains of bacteria from the cave's deepest recesses to make the findings, where they found almost all bacteria to be resistant to at least one antibiotic. In some cases, the bacteria was resistant to as many as 14 different antibiotics.
Mr Wright said: "Our study shows that antibiotic resistance is hard-wired into bacteria. It could be billions of years old, but we have only been trying to understand it for the last 70 years.
"This has important clinical implications. It suggests that there are far more antibiotics in the environment that could be found and used to treat currently untreatable infections."
The researchers additionally found that there was resistance in the bacteria relating to the bacterium that causes anthrax. Although this isn’t a problem now, it is possible that it could develop into one, and clinics should be prepared to respond to the threat.
Antibiotic resistance among bacteria is a growing health concern, with bacteria such as Staphylococcus growing which is resistant to a number of drugs.
Mr White added: "In extreme cases these organisms are resistant to seven or more drugs and are untreatable using traditional treatment, and doctors must resort to surgery to remove infected tissue."
Studying Lechuguilla Cave, where antibiotics have had no influence, was therefore a perfect laboratory for the researchers.