Antibiotic Resistance Can Spread Through The Air, Scientists Warn.
Originally published on Science Alert.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria is one of the biggest issues we facing in the coming decades, but there's one type of spread that isn't getting enough attention, says a new study – antibiotic resistance genes are spreading through the air.
If that sounds terrifying to you, you're not alone.
Bacteria's antibiotic resistance genes aren't just inherited through reproduction – in the case of bacteria that's asexual reproduction, where one parent cell becomes two daughter cells, also known as vertical gene transfer.
Unlike humans, bacteria can also spread their genes through something called horizontal gene transfer, where bacteria will replicate and then gift genes to other bacteria through a needle-like mechanism called a pilus.
But bacteria don't even need to be alive to pass their genes on horizontally, because once they die they release their entire insides into their environment – leaving little DNA packages around for other bacteria that happen to pass by.
The act of bacteria literally reaching out, picking up DNA from its environment and hauling it back into itself with its pilus, was recently captured on camera for the first time.
To make matters worse, both dead and alive bacteria can easily become airborne, moving to new locations and spreading their genes further abroad.
An international collaboration led by researchers from Peking University in Beijing, wanted to take a survey of just how prevalent and varied these airborne genes are.
The bad news: they're everywhere.