Smog: What Lurks Within

The planet teems with bacteria in all niches imaginable, including the air we breath. Integrate this fact with the fact of the ubiquity of antibiotic resistant bacteria and it is not surprising that the air itself contains antibiotic resistant bacteria. A recent study, that the popular press has been reporting on, reveals that the smog (an amalgam of fog and particulate matter) of Beijing contains many antimicrobial resistance genes. 

Before anyone suits up in a gas mask before going outside (as if the air inside one's house is sterile), it is important to put the finding into context.

While the finding itself doesn't strike me as surprising, it does illustrate the magnitude and full scope of antibiotic resistance. I often emphasize that antibiotic resistance is a unrelenting process in nature that humans have exacerbated with injudicious use of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is how bacteria struggle and fight with other microbial species and everywhere you look resistance is present -- even in caves in which no human has set foot. It will always be present at some levels and that is why antibiotic stewardship that accounts for this fact and minimizes the acceleration of the process is crucial

What the implications are of this latest piece of research? I wonder if some of the community-acquired drug-resistant infections and colonization might be the result of acquisition from the air. This study noted the presence of antibiotic resistant genes -- not the presence of viable bacteria --- so follow up studies could attempt to cultivate antibiotic resistant bacteria from the air.