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Century-old bugs resist modern drugs.

Century-old bugs resist modern drugs

Canadian scientists say they have grown 142-year-old bacteria taken from the frozen bodies of two Arctic explorers who were part of Sir John Franklin's doomed search for a Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific (1845-48). The bacteria showed a surprising resistance to modern antibiotics--a finding that may force scientists to revise current thinking about the mechanisms of resistance.

The knowledge may help researchers develop better antibiotics. We're running out of weapons," notes Kinga Kowalewska-Grochowska, a microbiologist at the University of Alberta Hospitals in Edmonton, who reported the bacterial findings last month at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Los Angeles. According to current theory, antibiotic overuse creates drug-resistant bacteria; the new research suggests resistance may be caused by more than one factor.

The Canadians traveled to Beechey Island in the Northwest Territory and removed tissue specimens from two crew members, William Braine and John Hartnell. Both bodies were well preserved, having been frozen since the explorers died in 1846. The tissue samples were kept frozen for transport and then cultured in the laboratory. The researchers grew six strains of a common intestinal bacterium, subjecting it to the antibiotics clindamycin and cefoxitin. The bacteria showed resistance to these drugs, an unexpected finding since the two men died before the development of antibiotics.

The Canadian team plans further research to unravel the mechanisms of resistance. One possibility, Kowalewska-Grochowska speculates, is that the men were exposed to some natural form of antibiotic. Another is that heavy-metal exposure creates resistant bacteria. Having eaten food stored in tin cans soldered with lead, both Hartnell and Braine had high levels of lead in their bones.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 12, 1988
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