“Superpower” Bacterium Discovered in Antarctica


| LAST UPDATE 05/31/2022

By Stanley Wickens
Antarctica antibiotic-resistant bacteria
REDA&CO / Contributor via Getty Images

It's no secret that climate change is one of the biggest threats to humans on the planet - and for so many reasons. But scientists may have just discovered yet another one of the deadly outcomes of this dangerous phenomenon.

A "superpower" bacterium that lives in Antarctica could potentially cause the next global pandemic, according to scientists. According to Andres Marcoleta, a researcher from the University of Chile, the bacteria has DNA fragments that have the ability to resist extreme conditions and can be transferred to other types of bacteria. They discovered that this type of bacterium has built-in antibiotic resistance, meaning that any treatment we currently have for it may be completely useless. "We know that the soils of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the polar areas most impacted by melting ice, host a great diversity of bacteria and that some of them constitute a potential source of ancestral genes that confer resistance to antibiotics." Surely, scientists are working to make sure this deadly microorganism stays put so that humans don't come into contact with it, right? Well, apparently, it's not as easy as it sounds. 

antibiotic-resistant bacteria discovery
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According to the team of researchers, climate change may be on this dangerous bug's side. In a study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment in March 2022, the researchers explained that climate change may help the unfreeze bacterium from the ice and allow them to spread past polar regions. And we can only imagine how catastrophic the consequences of this might be. 

Among the many shocking discoveries these scientists made about the bacteria was that they were nearly indestructible. One of the predominant groups found on the continent, called Pseudomonas bacteria, could be a source of "resistance genes" that can't be destroyed by your average disinfectants. "It is worth asking whether climate change could have an impact on the occurrence of infectious diseases," researchers said. "In a possible scenario, these genes could leave this reservoir and promote the emergence and proliferation of infectious diseases." However, one good thing that may come out of this discovery is the use of these bacterium for research purposes. But for the time being, scientists are working on preventing their spread as much as possible. Stay tuned while this story develops.

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