Scientists Discover Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug

Animals

| LAST UPDATE 01/10/2022

By Stanley Wickens
superbug hedgehog scientific discovery
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The more we advance in our scientific discoveries, the more we have to love - or to fear - about the world around us. Recently, scientists found a powerful organism living among us on a rather unassuming creature: a hedgehog. Here's what we know so far.

A 200-year-old antibiotic-resistant superbug has been identified on the skin of wild hedgehogs. The bacterium, a type of MRSA, was first found in dairy cows and was thought to have evolved as a consequence of the use of antibiotics on dairy farms. The newly discovered type, however, developed its resistance to antibiotics that are naturally produced by a skin fungus commonly found in hedgehogs. Scientists say the findings show that cases of antibiotic resistance can occur naturally as a result of biological processes, and not necessarily because of human use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic Resistant MRSA Bacteria
Rodolfo Parulan Jr. via Getty Images
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However, researchers were careful not to allow this fact to undermine the gravity of the growing issue of antibiotic resistance. "[The discovery] represents a tiny fraction of the risks compared to overuse of antibiotics in a human medical context," Professor Mark Holmes, from the University of Cambridge, told BBC News. It remains a relatively uncommon instance of antibiotic resistance emerging naturally. That being said, the findings went on to solve a decade-long debate regarding the MRSA-type of bacteria: where did it originate from? When scientists first discovered the bacterium, they made several unsuccessful attempts to track down its source.

"We tried to work out how much of a problem it was - so we looked in wildlife and in farm animals and found that it was clearly very widely distributed in nature," Prof Holmes explained. "When we looked at hedgehogs in particular, about half of the animals we sampled had this type of MRSA." He pointed out that the fungus spreading on the hedgehogs was releasing penicillin, and that the bacterium was to develop a resistance to this antibiotic if it wanted to survive. Researchers also addressed possible concerns regarding hedgehogs, who could be carrying an antibiotic-resistant bacterium right into people's backyards. Be sure to stay tuned while this story develops.

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