A new study has found traces of antibiotic resistance genes in the High Arctic region, including the ‘superbug’ or the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 protein (coded by blaNDM-1 gene), which was first detected in urban India in 2008.
Researchers who took soil samples in 2013 from the Kongsfjorden region of Svalbard – a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean – found “comparatively localised” levels of blaNDM-1, which poses no health threat. However, they say the “detection reinforces how rapidly AR (antibiotic resistance) can globalise”, the study states.
“Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) from around the world are accumulating in even the most remote locations. While it is highly unlikely antibiotic use has had any direct effect on ARGs in places like Kongsfjorden… ARG and mobile genetic elements data from local soils suggest anthropogenic inputs originating from sources far away from the inlet (eg, blaNDM-1 in five clusters),” the study finds.
It also says that the detection of blaNDM-1 is “noteworthy” since the study uses samples collected less than three years after the first detection of the superbug in surface seeps in urban India.
“Although levels of blaNDM-1 are comparatively localised in Kongsfjorden…and pose no health threat, its detection reinforces how rapidly AR can globalise. Results here underscore the value of characterizing remote locations with minimal ‘impact’, providing a baseline for quantifying the spread of AR around the world,” the study states.
The study was published in the journal Environment International and was carried out by an international team of researchers from the Newcastle University, Universities of Kansas and York, and a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Xiamen. Researchers analysed the DNA from forty soil cores at eight locations and detected 131 ARGs.
“The only potential pathways for the spread of the superbug gene to the Arctic are humans or birds. We used detailed geochemistry in conjunction with microbiology to inform our conclusions,” Clare McCann, the lead author of the study told The Indian Express. “We already know the NDM-1 (blaNDM-1) is a clinical ARG that is not found in nature, and has to come from the urbanised world. The NDM-1 superbug gene…was first discovered in a clinical setting… and has never been found to be present naturally in the soil. The superbug is result of human misuse and overuse and has spread readily through the environment via human wastes originally.”
McCann said: “We already understand drivers for antibiotic resistance to be human misuse and overuse, poor sanitation and extensive use in agriculture. However, we still do not understand the pathways that cause this resistance to spread around the globe. Less than three years after the first detection of the blaNDM-1 gene we found them thousands of miles away in an area where there has been minimal human impact. This study presents a crucial step forward in understanding how AMR transmits around the globe.”