The human gut inhabits more than a trillion microorganisms, with most of the residents being bacteria. Although most bacteria in our gut are beneficial to us, a recent study has identified more than 6,000 antibiotic resistant genes in the bacteria living within our gut. The study, conducted by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) in collaboration with Willem van Schaik of the University Birmingham, developed a new method to identify resistant genes in the human gut. The researchers compared 3-D structures of known antibiotic resistant enzymes to proteins produced by gut bacteria. The same method was then applied to a catalogue of several million genes in the human gut and the genes were compared. Comparisons have shown that the antibiotic resistant genes in gut bacteria are extremely different compared to previously identified resistant genes in pathogenic bacteria.
The study highlights that there is an immense diversity in antibiotic resistant genes in the human gut environment. Although these genes have a harmless relationship with the human host (for now), the bacteria can pose a threat for those who are hospitalized or immunocompromised as they do not have the immune strength to combat bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Continuing use of antibiotics may also lead to resistant genes in gut bacteria being transferred to pathogenic bacteria, rendering the effectiveness of antibiotics dramatically. Although the transfer of resistant genes to pathogenic bacteria is rare, it is not impossible and continued overuse can potentially raise the chances of these pathogenic bacteria receiving the genes.
I believe this study is very interesting, especially since I am passionate about antibacterial and antibiotic resistance. The study has stated that the mechanisms of how gut bacteria receive antibiotic resistant genes are still unknown, but results give some insight on how genetics between resistant genes differ from gut bacteria to pathogenic ones. I hope in the future we can find a way to tackle antibiotic resistance, especially through thorough understanding of the genetics and evolutionary biology of bacterial specimens (both good and bad).