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‘Superbug’ first identified in Delhi surfaces in Arctic region

It is yet to be determined how the NDM-1 gene was found in the Arctic, but scientists said that such spreading is not unusual and can happen even due to migratory birds in cases of areas where human population is low.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2019 07:35 IST
HTC and Agencies
HTC and Agencies
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
NDM-1 gene,Superbug,Arctic region
The gene was first discovered in 2008 in a Swedish patient who had been to New Delhi, but got attention in 2010 when researchers published a paper on it.(AP Photo/Representative image)

An antiobiotic-resistant gene first discovered in India has been found some 13,000km away in the Arctic region, triggering concerns about the speed with which superbugs can spread across the world.

Researchers found the New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (blaNDM-1) gene, which helps bacteria produce an enzyme making it immune to one of the world’s last line of antibiotic defence (carbapenems), in Svalbard, an archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

“Polar regions are among the last presumed pristine ecosystems on Earth… Encroachment into areas like the Arctic reinforces how rapid and far-reaching the spread of antibiotic resistance has become,” the agency quoted David Graham, a professor at Newcastle University which was part of the research team, as saying.

The findings were published in the journal Environmental International.

The researchers analysed DNA from 40 soil cores at eight locations along the Kongsfjorden region of Svalbard, where a total of 131 antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) were detected.

The place where researchers recovered the samples is marked by rugged, remote terrain with temperatures varying from 3°C in summers to -20°C in winters, and have almost no population except for visiting research groups.

This provides “for a platform for characterising pre-antibiotic era background resistance against which we could understand rates of progression of AR ‘pollution’”, said Graham.

“Encroachment” into such areas, he added, underscores the need to fight antibiotic-resistance at a global level “rather than in just local terms”.

While the team was yet to determine how the NDM-1 gene was found in the Arctic, scientists said that such spreading is not unusual and can happen even due to migratory birds in cases of areas where human population is low.

“Migratory birds and people tend to intrude into the ecosystem and contaminate it,” said Dr Chand Wattal, chairman, department of clinical microbiology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

“We have had similar examples in the past wherein resistant genes were found in remote areas with barely any population. It is a phenomena that keeps happening in nature as nature has its own way of maintaining ecological balance,” he added.

NDM-1 is carried in the gut of animals and people, and Graham’s team too believed that it could have reached the Arctic through faecal matter of birds, other wildlife, and human visitors to the area.

The gene was first discovered in 2008 in a Swedish patient who had been to New Delhi, but got attention in 2010 when researchers published a paper on it, and detecting it in water supply and around hospitals in several countries, including India.

The “New Delhi” name had triggered protests from experts and officials in India, who called it “malicious propaganda”.

First Published: Jan 29, 2019 07:12 IST