Gene discovered in Georgia water a possible global threat

ATHENS, Ga. — Researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered a gene that causes bacteria to be resistant to an important antibiotic, in local sewage water.

UGA’s Centers for Food Safety collected water from an urban area in Georgia to test for the MCR-9 gene in bacteria. Researchers quickly found the presence of the gene in a bacteria called Morganella morganii.

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The MCR-9 gene can make bacteria resistant to an antibiotic called colistin, which is considered a last-resort antibiotic that can kill bacteria other antibiotics can’t.

The gene has been declared one of the top 10 medical threats to global humanity.

Colistin is used outside of the U.S. as an antibiotic in livestock. It’s currently banned in the U.S. because of concerns about bacteria gaining resistance to it.

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UGA Assistant Professor Issmat Kassem said that if bacteria becomes resistant to colistin, the results could be catastrophic.

“This means that if people or animals contract a strain of colistin-resistant bacteria, there are potentially no medications that can treat their infection,” Kassem said. “They face extreme, invasive health measures and possible death.”

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Kassem said that of further concern is the way the gene spreads easily from one bacteria to another, which suggests that it could spread to bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, which commonly cause outbreaks in human. Kassem said the gene could change those illnesses from being relatively treatable to deadly.

Kassem said that the findings of the study demonstrate that the MCR-9 gene is becoming established in the U.S. and could be more widespread than initially thought, which is a serious problem that could pose a global threat.

“If we don’t tackle it right now, we are jeopardizing human and animal medicine as we know it and that can have huge repercussions on health and the economy,” Kassem said. “It’s a dangerous problem that requires attention from multiple sectors for us to be able to tackle it properly.”

Kassem said many industries, including research, health care and government industries, will need to work together to find a solution.

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