A 4-million-year-old strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been found in the isolated Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico – more than 400 meters (over 1300 feet) below the surface of the earth, Time.com reported.
The bacteria’s discovery could hold the clues to developing drugs that could fight modern day “superbugs.”
The overuse of antibiotics by hospitals and animal farms has been largely criticized for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. But since the Lechuguilla Cave has been virtually untouched for so long, the ancient bacteria’s existence suggests that drug resistance is actually an old trait that evolved millions of years ago, according to the website.
Samples of the cave’s bacteria – found in pristine crystals – are not infectious to humans, but have the capability to fight modern-day synthetic drugs.
Researchers examined 93 types of bacteria extracted from the cave and tested them against 26 different kinds of antibiotics. About 70 percent of the bacteria were resistant to three or four classes of the antibiotics. Three of the strains – distant anthrax relatives – resisted 14 of the 26 tested antibiotics.
“Clinical microbiologists have been perplexed for the longest time. When you bring a new antibiotic into the hospital, resistance inevitably appears shortly thereafter, within months to years,” study leader Gerry Wright, a chemical biologist at McMaster University in Ontario, told National Geographic. “It’s still a big question: Where is this coming from. Almost no one thought to look at other bacteria, the ones that don’t necessarily cause disease.”