A2: Microbes in the News

The region in Svalbard where the bacterial strain was found. Photo courtesy of Yahoo! News and Reuters

Superbug found in one of most ‘pristine’ places on Earth


By Anne Gulland of the Telegraph.

January 28, 2019

What could be worse than contracting a bacterial infection? Contracting one that has no known treatment protocol or cure. That is the ongoing issue for patients in India who have succumbed to the “superbug” that was recently found in soil samples extracted from Svalbard in the Arctic circle.

A “superbug” is an term used to categorize bacteria that have strong resistance to antibiotics and for those reasons, they are extremely dangerous to those infected. Despite the island of Svalbard being extremely isolated and inhabited by humans, the discovery of such bacteria in a remote place have shown the great potential that antibiotic resistant strains have to migrate from place to place.

As the world enters into a post-Antibiotic era, the bacteria take advantage of not being combated by spreading wherever they can. This particular strain of Bacteria, containing within it a gene known as blaNDM-1 gene is believed to have been carried by birds to Svalbard and then diapered by the island through guano.

In class, we’ve touched up on how bacteria have such short generation time; henceforth, they are prone to more genetic mutations in reproduction and thus more prone to experience evolution much faster than animals. Because of this, nature will select the bacteria whose mutations benefit them to survive the onslaught of antibiotic therapies. Going back to learning about penicillin from Monday,   January 28, 2019, the fungal spores can interrupt the bacteria’s ability to reproduce, there might come a time when it is no longer effective against pathogenic strains like the one mentioned in this article.

What I find interesting about this article is the mechanism by which this bacterial strain managed to end up on one of the most remote places on Earth. According to the Article, the strain is carried by birds   It really makes you think, from an epidemiological aspect, just how vulnerable we really are to being exposed to a foreign disease like the one mentioned in this article that could be brought to us by similar mechanisms of migrating birds. Even more so, as antibiotic resistance continues to persist, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care; the first thing that came up on this news website’s homepage was about the government shutdown. Even more so, when I clicked the science tab to look for science articles, one of the first articles that popped up was about how Donald Trump doesn’t believe in global warming. I’m surprised that people are more interested in things like politics that don’t really affect them as opposed to serious issues like antibiotic resistance which could directly affect journalists if they ever get infected.

So what do you think? Are superbugs, with this most recent trend, to be the end of us or are the chances of us coming into contact with them pretty slim and more of a matter of avian migration patterns?


– Alexander Gloger