Select Page
Microbiologists from the University of Akron and McMaster University ( Canada) have recovered bacteria from the deepest recesses of Lechuguilla Cave in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Five hundred strains of bacteria were extracted from rock formations that have never been exposed to no more than a half-dozen humans. Of the recovered strains, only 93 survived in the scientists’ aboveground lab.

These hardy bacteria subsist on minimal water and only the nutrients they can extract from the subterranean rock. And they do it in total darkness. The microbiologists tested the bacteria against more than 25 different antibiotics, expecting these bacteria to succumb to these modern drugs. Instead, they found that all the microbes were resistant to at least one of the antibiotics. This surprising discovery suggests that bacteria have an ancient mechanism for evading toxic chemicals. Microbiologists have assumed that today’s antibiotic-resistance crisis was caused by increasing exposure of germs to antibiotics in the past 50 years. That is undoubtedly still true, but the newly discovered cave bacteria might give clues as to how germs evade drugs that they have never before confronted.


Lechuguilla Cave, Carlsbad Caverns

Rich mixtures of bacteria live in Lechuguilla Cave, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 1,600 feet below the Earth’s surface. [Dave Bunnell, 2007]