Used in fight against COVID, genomic surveillance could combat antibiotic resistance, say researchers

New Delhi: A group of researchers has suggested that the public health problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could be addressed through genomic surveillance, which proved vital in understanding how the COVID-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus evolved and spread. Antimicrobial or antibiotic resistance occurs when drugs designed to kill infectious bacteria and fungi are rendered ineffective because the microbes have developed an ability to defeat these drugs.

AMR causes substantial sickness and death worldwide, responsible for approximately 1.27 million deaths in 2019. Some estimates suggest that by 2050, it could kill as many as 10 million people each year, the team including researchers from the Indian Council of Medical Research wrote in an article.

AMR is a major global challenge that could ultimately result in many more deaths than the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers wrote in their article published in the journal The Lancet Microbe.

During the COVID pandemic, genomic surveillance allowed scientists to identify sources of infection, spot ‘variants of concern’ and inspect whether public health measures such as lockdown, travel restrictions and vaccination were working, they wrote.

They said the potential to improve surveillance of AMR pathogens may be even higher than it is for SARS-CoV-2 as the genome data can detect and track outbreaks, therefore offering solutions for effective antibiotic treatment.

The research team said genomic surveillance could also help reveal the mechanism for resistance including mutations and the acquisition of new DNA, and help understand the movement of resistance mechanisms between bacteria.

“When the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, we showed how powerful a tool genomic surveillance could be in helping us fight back. We now need to take what we learned from the pandemic including its bold and large scale use and reapply it to the complex problem of AMR,” said author Sharon Peacock of University of Cambridge, UK.

Elita Jauneikaite, one of the authors and a researcher from Imperial College, London, said, “We are going to be locked in an ongoing arms race with bacterial pathogens indefinitely. Genomic surveillance offers real promise to help us fight back, providing invaluable information to limit the spread and impact of AMR.”

The researchers, however, said a number of barriers will first need to be overcome. These include a lack of resources and political will, and the need for more training, particularly around bioinformatics, which refers to the application of computational techniques for analysing genome data.

Further, there are practical barriers as well, such as weak epidemiological surveillance and microbiology infrastructure in many countries, poor supply chains and pricing structures, and issues around effective cooperation and data sharing, the team wrote.

The authors are part of an international expert group of the Surveillance and Epidemiology of Drug-resistant Infections Consortium (SEDRIC), a health-based think tank that focuses on drug-resistant infection surveillance and epidemiology, according to the consortium’s website.


  • Updated On Nov 19, 2023 at 05:14 PM IST
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  • Published On Nov 19, 2023 at 05:06 PM IST
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  • 2 min read
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Source – ETHealth World