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Soil bacteria may provide clues to curbing antibiotic resistance

Drug-resistant bacteria annually sicken 2 million Americans and kill at least 23,000. A driving force behind this growing public health threat is the ability of bacteria to share genes that provide antibiotic resistance.

Bacteria that naturally live in the soil have a vast collection of genes to fight off antibiotics, but they are much less likely to share these genes, a new study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has revealed. The findings suggest that most genes from soil bacteria are not poised to contribute to antibiotic resistance in infectious bacteria.

The researchers hope that what they are learning from soil bacteria will help identify ways to reduce gene sharing among infectious bacteria, slowing the spread of drug-resistant superbugs, said senior author Gautam Dantas, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and immunology.

The results appear May 21 in Nature.

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