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Daily Archives: 10. February 2019 − News & Stories

Mul­ti­re­sistant bac­te­ria in Kongsfjord

Bac­te­ri­al resis­tance genes that have been found in soil samples in Kongsfjord have recent­ly recei­ved con­sidera­ble media atten­ti­on. The­se genes are respon­si­ble for mul­tid­rug resis­tance among bac­te­ria. Media and peo­p­le are asking how such genes could make it into the see­mingly untouch­ed natu­re of the Arc­tic. Some media see reason for com­pa­ri­son of the recent fin­dings with doomsday sce­na­ri­os inclu­ding wars and cli­ma­te chan­ge.

Wit­hout any ques­ti­on, the uncon­trol­led use of anti­bio­tics in many count­ries and the incre­asing occur­rence of mul­ti­re­sis­tent bac­te­ria are a very serious pro­blem.

Ny-Ålesund, Spitsbergen: multidrug resistant bacteria found

Genes that make bac­te­ria resis­tent against anti­bio­tics have been found in soil samples taken near Ny-Åle­sund in Kongsfjord.

The news about the fin­dings have sur­pri­sed many, but for sci­en­tists, they are not as unex­pec­ted as many may belie­ve. This is at least the case with samples that were taken near sett­le­ments. The samples in ques­ti­on were taken near Ny-Åle­sund in Kongsfjord.

The natu­re of Spits­ber­gen is not as untouch­ed as it is often descri­bed as, at least not in places like Kong­s­jord. The sett­le­ment of Ny-Åle­sund was foun­ded 1916 as a coal mining place as all of today’s sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen. Ny-Åle­sund beca­me famous in the 1920s when seve­ral north pole exep­di­ti­ons were laun­ched the­re. After mining was aban­do­ned in 1963, Ny-Åle­sund deve­lo­ped into an inter­na­tio­nal rese­arch vil­la­ge. Today, sci­en­tists from many count­ries come here every years to do fieldwork on all kinds of polar rese­arch. Many ships visit the har­bour of Ny-Åle­sund, inclu­ding rese­arch and sup­p­ly ves­sels and crui­se ships (smal­ler ones, cru­de oil is not allo­wed in the­se waters any­mo­re). Kongsfjord is under influence of the Gulf Stream.

Accor­ding to the ori­gi­nal publi­ca­ti­on Under­stan­ding dri­vers of anti­bio­tic resis­tance genes in High Arc­tic soil eco­sys­tems (McCann, C.M., Envi­ron­ment Inter­na­tio­nal), all 8 samples were taken clo­se to Ny-Åle­sund. The resis­tence gene NDM-1 (New Deh­li Metallo-β-lak­tama­se) was for the first time iso­la­ted in 2008 from medi­cal samples from a pati­ent who had pre­vious­ly been trea­ted in a hos­pi­tal in India. Bac­te­ria har­bou­ring this enzy­me are resis­tent against seve­ral groups of anti­bio­tics inclu­ding one group which is con­side­red last-resort anti­bio­tics.

Spitsbergen: multidrug resistant bacteria found

Kleb­si­el­la-pneu­mo­niae (bowel colo­ni­s­ing).
NDM-1 was found in this spe­ci­es in 2008.

Fur­ther inves­ti­ga­ti­ons show­ed that bac­te­ria with this resis­tence gene are wide­spread espe­ci­al­ly on the Indi­an sub-con­ti­nent, but they have also been found in count­ries such as Japan, Chi­na, Aus­tra­lia and Cana­da as well as Euro­pean count­ries inclu­ding the UK, Bel­gi­um, France, Aus­tria, Ger­ma­ny, Nor­way and Swe­den. Humans can be colo­nis­ed by such bac­te­ria in their body, usual­ly in the intesti­nes, wit­hout neces­s­a­ri­ly being sick.

Hence, it is not hard to ima­gi­ne that bac­te­ria are spread over lar­ge distances and into remo­te parts of the Earth, whe­re­ver peo­p­le sett­le and tra­vel in num­bers. Trans­por­ta­ti­on mecha­nisms are mani­fold. Bac­te­ria that tra­vel in human intesti­nes can easi­ly enter the envi­ron­ment via sewa­ge water sys­tems. Ani­mals are bac­te­ri­al car­ri­ers, some­thing that is well-descri­bed in con­nec­tion with migra­ting birds. The­se acqui­re bac­te­ria for exam­p­le in the win­tering are­as and trans­port them to the bree­ding are­as. Kongsfjord is an important bree­ding area for seve­ral migra­ting bird spe­ci­es such as geese that win­ter in nor­t­hern cen­tral Euro­pe.

The aut­hors of the ori­gi­nal publi­ca­ti­on (see abo­ve) con­clude right­ly that the fin­dings of the resis­tence gene NDM-1 in Kongsfjord does not pose any thre­at on the health for peo­p­le in the area. But it shows that resis­tent bac­te­ria that may have ori­gi­na­ted in con­nec­tion with uncon­trol­led use of anti­bio­tics in any one of many count­ries in the world may spread quick­ly around the glo­be. This in its­elf is not much of a sur­pri­se. No mat­ter how sad the dis­tri­bu­ti­on of resis­tence genes into remo­te (but not untouch­ed) cor­ners of the glo­be as Spits­ber­gen is and how dra­ma­tic the con­se­quen­ces of infec­tions with such patho­gens can be for pati­ents – evi­dence for the exis­tence of such genes in soil samples taken clo­se to a sett­le­ment in the Arc­tic does not increase any of the­se pro­blems, but shows that they do not respect boun­da­ries or distances. The dra­ma­tic head­lines of many recent media sup­ports and com­pa­ri­son to apo­ca­lyp­tic sce­na­ri­ons such as wars do not do the com­ple­xi­ty of the pro­blem any jus­ti­ce.

It would be inte­res­t­ing to make a stu­dy with samples from are­as that are inde­ed most­ly untouch­ed by humans, such as remo­te and rare­ly visi­ted parts of Nord­aus­t­land.

Text: Dr. Kris­ti­na Hoch­auf-Stan­ge (med. micro­bio­lo­gist)


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