WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Disease-causing germs and harmless bacteria in soil are exchanging genes that make them resistant to antibiotics, U.S. researchers say.
A study published in the journal Science says the finding may have implications for the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock, and could lead to drug-resistant infections becoming an increasingly serious threat worldwide to animals and humans, the Voice of America reported Thursday.
Bacteria that cause many human diseases become resistant to antibiotics either through mutations in their genetic material or by swapping genes with other bacteria, researchers said.
Even different species can swap gene-carrying DNA, they said.
"Bacteria as different as, say, you and I are to a plant, are still able to exchange DNA," Gautam Dantas, study co-author and Washington University immunologist, said.
Dontas and his colleagues said an analysis of 11 different soil samples found about 100 different antibiotic resistance genes.
"Out of those 100 or so genes, seven of them had exactly the same DNA sequence as antibiotic-resistance genes that have been found in a whole bunch of pretty deadly pathogens from around the world," Dontas said.
Researchers cannot yet tell whether the genes came from the pathogens first and jumped to the soil bacteria or vice versa, he said.
"But I think either scenario is plausible and either scenario, as far as we're concerned, is scary."