Antibiotic resistance is ancient, according to articles in Nature doi:10.1038/nature10388 and ScienceNOW 31 August 2011, and ABC News in Science 1 September 2011. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are often presented as evidence for evolution, especially as some of the tougher hospital “superbugs” are resistant to modern day man-made antibiotics. A group of Canadian researchers have analysed bacterial DNA from samples obtained from deeply buried frozen soil, dated at 30,000 years, from the Yukon Territory in Canada. The team took great care to ensure their samples were not contaminated with modern day bacteria and to confirm their samples were from well before the pre-antibiotic era they looked for and found DNA from extinct animals such as bison and mammoths, and from grasses that no longer grow there. The scientists found parts of genes for resistance to penicillin, tetracycline and vancomycin. The research team inserted the vancomycin resistant gene into modern day bacteria to see if it was the same as a modern-day hospital superbug and found it “showed the same activity and had almost the same structure as its modern counterpart”. They concluded: “These results show conclusively that antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon that predates the modern selective pressure of clinical antibiotic use”.

Gerard Wright McMaster University, who led the study, commented: “My guess would be that all the resistance elements we see today, we would probably find if we had the right tools. Most pathogenic (disease causing) organisms are not terribly drug resistant … in comparison to environmental bacteria we study; yet with use of antibiotics they have been able to acquire these genes that are out there. The environment seems to be this great reservoir of resistance genes that can eventually end up in the clinic”. The new results raise questions about the role of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance in the environment. Wright suggested: “It turns out that low doses of molecules that we call antibiotics don’t necessarily kill bacteria, but trigger all kinds of fascinating reactions from gene expression to changing cell shape and maybe communication”.


Editorial Comment: Wow – we have been saying this for 30 years and so did my non-creationist Genetics professor when this editor was a university student. These results are yet another example of evolutionary theory being useless to science. Antibiotic resistance is often presented as an example of evolution happening before our eyes, and it is even given as a reason why evolution should be taught in medical schools. However, as these results show, antibiotic resistance is a pre-existing built-in function that did not evolve in response to human use of antibiotics. It will be interesting to see the results of further research into the function of antibiotics and resistance out in the environment studied by Wright and his colleagues. We predict it will reveal more functions that owe nothing to the theory of evolution, but provide more evidence that bacteria are complex creations designed to interact with other living things.

The rise of antibiotic resistance in hospitals is an example of selection, but selection is not the same as evolution. Antibiotic use by humans has just selected out, i.e. eliminated, the non-resistant strains. The bacteria that were already resistant have survived and reproduced and became dominant in places where there were lots of antibiotics being used. (Ref. microbiology, bacteriology, ecology, prediction)

Evidence News 7 September 2011