Lechuguilla Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico has been closed to the public since its discovery in 1986. Only select scientists and cave experts have been allowed to enter due to the cave’s delicate and fragile nature. Because of these restrictions, the cave has become a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Professor Hazel Barton of University of Akron explains that exploring these remote and uncharted environments presents the opportunity to study the development and diversity of microbes that have never been touched by humans.
Professor Gerald Wright of McMaster University has conducted research in Lechuguilla Cave to examine a bacterium known as Paenibacillus sp. LC231. This bacterium has been isolated inside the cave for thousands of years, making it the perfect atmosphere to study how microorganisms have evolved without human contact and interference. According to Wright’s study published in the journal Nature Communications, Paenibacillus sp. LC231 is resistant to 26 of 40 antibiotics tested. In addition to the resistance of numerous antibiotics, the bacterium also inactivates 7 distinct classes.
Professor Wright’s research team also exposed multiple pathways of possible clinical concern. The discovery of these pathways could lead to health innovations and allow researchers time to create new drugs to fight this type of resistance before it even becomes a problem in the medical world.
Chamberlain Smith is a science intern and a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.