UGA scientist is tracking ‘hitchhiker’ genes

  20 October 2020

Antibiotic resistance – one of the biggest threats to global health, according to the World Health Organization – occurs when germs learn how to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. The problem of resistance threatens the efficacy of antibiotics, making simple infections untreatable.

Colistin is a drug that is considered a “last resort” antibiotic because it is one of the few options available to treat certain complicated infections. The WHO labels it as one of the highest priority and critically important antibiotics for human medicine. But now the use of colistin in medicine is having the same resistance problem due to superbug genes that have been found in nearly every country. These genes have spread by “hitchhiking” via people (travel), animals and foods (trade) around the world.

To better understand the problem and how it can be stopped, University of Georgia food scientist Issmat Kassem is tracking mobile colistin-resistance (MCR) genes, which were originally found in China in 2016, and how they spread through travel and food trade. These genes have threatened the efficacy of colistin against bacterial infections and their emergence has been associated with animal farming. Colistin was used as a feed additive in animal production in many countries, until it was banned due to the emergence of the MCR genes.

Further reading: University of Georgia
Author(s): Joshua Paine
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