Study finds evidence of antibiotic resistance in 1,000-year-old mummies

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A discovery that gut bacteria in ancient Incan mummies are resistant to most of the antibiotics developed hundreds of years after they were buried suggests the phenomenon is not altogether new, New Scientist reports.

The research was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston last month.  

In three mummies from the Inca Empire dating from the 900s to the 1300s, and six from Italy dating from the 1400s to the 1700s, researchers from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, identified a number of bacterial genes giving the microorganisms resistance to modern day antibiotics. They found this resistance both in pathogenic ancient bugs, like Enterococcus, which is responsible for many hospital-acquired infections today, and in less harmful bacteria as well, according to New Scientist.

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"When you think about it, almost all these antibiotics are naturally produced, so it makes sense to find antibiotic genes as well," Tasha Santiago-Rodriguez, PhD, a CalPoly researcher, said during the presentation.

Another researcher not involved with the study told New Scientist although it has been established that bacteria developed natural resistance to antibiotics before their use was widespread among humans, this new study raises important questions about what forces were selecting for genes that enable resistance in bacteria so long before their discovery. 

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