Ga. sewer water harbors gene that spawns drug-resistant bacteria

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 12:45 PM EST
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ATLANTA (WGCL/CBS46) — A gene that causes bacteria to be resistant to some of the world’s most important antibiotics has been detected in sewer water, according to researchers in Georgia.

Researchers at the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety detected the presence of the MCR-9 gene, which makes bacteria resistant to colistin, after testing sewage water in a Georgia community.

The researchers cited concerns over the discovery as the gene was found in a bacteria known as Morganella morganii, which they say is not tested often meaning the problem could be more severe than initially expected.

UGA says colistin is considered a “last resort” antibiotic due to its ability to kill infections that other antibiotics cannot. The antibiotic is frequently used for agriculture and livestock. The spread of the MCR gene could mean the colistin is no longer working effectively, threatening the safety of people who eat an animal that may have contracted a strain of colistin-resistant bacteria.

Additionally, the researchers noted there is currently no medication to treat infections from colistin-resistant bacteria.

“Further complicating the issue is the way that the gene is spread. It transmits in plasmids, which are strands of DNA found inside cells that can replicate on their own, independent of the cell. A plasmid with antimicrobial resistance found in one type of bacteria can transmit to other types of bacteria. This means that bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella that commonly cause outbreaks in humans can potentially carry MCR, turning them from treatable illnesses to potentially deadly infections,” the UGACFS team said.

Details on findings from the research on the MCR-9 gene can be found here.

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