Science / Medicine : Pollution Suspected of Toughening Bacteria

From Times staff and wire reports

Bacteria found in the frozen corpses of two seamen who died 140 years ago in the Arctic show unexpected resistance to modern antibiotics, scientists say.

Because there is evidence that lead poisoning killed the men, the Canadian researchers speculate that heavy metal pollutants, not just overuse of antibiotics, may play a role in creating disease germs that survive drugs.

The proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has become a major problem, especially in Third World nations, where the drugs are used indiscriminately, killing vulnerable bacteria and allowing resistant bacteria to reproduce.

But medical microbiologist Dr. Kinga Kowalewska-Grochowska said the study she conducted with colleagues at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, has prompted her to speculate that environmental pollution may spur development of some antibiotic-resistant germs.

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