“(Nat. Geo.) Deep in the bowels of a pristine New Mexico cave, microbiologists have discovered nearly a hundred types of bacteria that can fight off modern antibiotic drugs.
The bacteria coat the walls of the Lechuguilla cave system on rock faces some 1,600 feet (487 meters) below Earth's surface. Until recently, the microscopic life-forms had encountered neither humans nor modern antibiotics.
That's because a thick dome of rock isolated the cave between four and seven million years ago. Any water that trickles through takes roughly ten thousand years to reach the cave's depths—which means the subterranean life has existed entirely in the absence of modern medicine.
While not infectious to humans, the cave bacteria can resist multiple classes of antibiotics, including new synthetic drugs. The discovery serves as an intriguing lead in the quest to understand how drug-resistant diseases emerge.
"Clinical microbiologists have been perplexed for the longest time. When you bring a new antibiotic into the hospital, resistance inevitably appears shortly thereafter, within months to years," said study leader Gerry Wright, a chemical biologist at McMaster University in Ontario.
"It's still a big question: Where is this coming from?" Wright said. "Almost no one thought to look at other bacteria, the ones that don't necessarily cause disease."
Growing "Superbug" Problem
Lechuguilla is one of the deepest and most extensive cave systems in New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With at least 130 miles (209 kilometers) of mapped passages, Lechuguilla is also the planet's seventh longest known cave…”