(HN, 4/11/12) - Lechuguilla Cave, a subterranean tunnel stretching for 130 miles through Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, US may just hold the key to the growing global problem of antibiotic resistance to current modern viruses. Deep in the cave's most arid depths, amid no sunlight, no water - a lush garden of bacteria grows untouched by humans for 4 million years. These strains of bacteria thrive on harsh minerals of the geological formations to which they cling & fend off other life forms that would prey on them. Hazel A. Barton, a spelunker & microbiologist at the University of Akron in Ohio collected about 500 strains of bacteria from 3 sites in the cave. Of the 93 strains that were chosen for evaluation, all were resistant to at least 1 of the current antibiotics used to fight bacterial infections & some were resistant to at least 14. Virtually all of the 26 antibiotics tested - from natural products like vancomycin to synthetics such as ciprofloxacin & linezolid - proved useless in killing at least 1 of the strains of bacteria collected.
What does this mean? Try as you might to kill them, infectious diseases gain the upper hand against medicines eventually & the process cannot be stopped. The study appeared on the same day the US Food & Drug Administration asked drug makers & veterinarians to reduce the widespread use of antibiotics in commercial livestock. In 2010, nearly 29 million pounds of antibiotics were fed to animals, accelerating bacteria's adaptation to drugs. Scientists have long believed the ability of disease-causing bacteria to outwit antibiotics was a man-made phenomenon that made many bacteria's less vulnerable to drugs used to fight tuberculosis, malaria, gonorrhea, influenza, pneumonia & AIDS. The findings make it clear that humans will always have to contend with antibiotic resistance, no matter what steps are taken to prevent it; but the study's findings should help scientists to develop antibiotics for future use. (Read more at NATGEO)