Like a cat softly entering a room on cushioned paws, a new killer may be stalking the land. Known as NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta- lactamase 1) this gene fragment becomes deadly whenever it gets inserted into a bacterium’s genetic structure. If a bacteria strain carries the NDM-1 gene, it is resistant to nearly all antibiotics, including carbapenem antibiotics - also known as antibiotics of last resort. Scientists fear that at some point there may be people who will acquire and infection of the sort that cannot be cured; reminiscent of Medieval Times when even a small cut could prove fatal.
First discovered only a year ago by a group of British researchers, NDM-1 is now thought to be proliferating itself through a mechanism known as ‘horizontal gene transfer’; a process by which the gene for NDM-1 travels on a plasmid, an extra-chomosomal loop of DNA that can be traded freely among bacteria. Like children trading baseball cards, the gene can move rapidly from one form of bacteria to another.
At this time, it is thought that the gene mostly confined to just a couple of strains of bacteria, such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae. However, due to the way that bacteria like MRSA are known to trade genes they fear it only a matter of time before a new generation of so-called Superbugs spring into being. Already, NDM-1 is widespread in India and Pakistan, and it has reached Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia.