We’re in a medical crisis, as bacteria that can resist antibiotics become more common. But, as I write in my new New York Times column, antibiotic resistance isn’t just limited to the doctor’s office. Bacteria all over the world have genes that make them resistant to our best drugs–bacteria living in caves, in ice, in the ocean floor, and in the dirt outside your door. And they probably had those genes long before doctors started using antibiotics.
Scientists have long considered the rise of antibiotic resistance one of the most striking examples of evolution in our own time. Our growing appreciation for antibiotic resistance beyond disease-causing bacteria doesn’t change that. After all, scientists can observe antibiotic resistance evolve from scratch in laboratory experiments. What the new research does is give us a richer, planet-wide glimpse of that evolutionary process.