Antibiotic Resistance Is Ancient
An isolated tribe in a remote place in Amazonia has antibiotic resistance genes in its gut bacteria.
An icon of evolution is antibiotic resistance. Supposedly, after the introduction of antibiotics in the 20th century, bacteria “evolved” the ability to resist their toxic effects. Since some antibiotics are synthetic, and the body still develops resistance, the story is that evolution is quick to evolve resistance by natural selection.
That story has undergone a challenge by a new study of a previously uncontacted group of Yanomami people in a remote region of Venezuela. Researchers gathered stool samples for study, and found that the people had a wider variety of gut biota than westerners. Among the bacteria were species that had antibiotic resistance genes—including the ability to fight synthetic antibiotics. This was reported by Science Magazine reporter Ann Gibbons, who said scientists find this troubling:
The medical team’s interviews with these Yanomami villagers found they were never given drugs or exposed to food or water with antibiotics. Instead, Dantas suggests that the Yanomami gut bacteria have evolved an armory of methods to fight a wide range of toxins that threaten them—just as our ancestors and other primates have done to fight dangerous microbes. For example, the Yanomami bacteria may already have encountered toxins that occur naturally in their environment that are similar in molecular structure to modern antibiotics, but have yet to be discovered by scientists. Or, gut bacteria in humans have evolved a generalized mechanism for detecting certain features shared by all antibiotics—including the synthetic ones designed by scientists—and so can mount a defense against new threats.
The discovery is troubling because it suggests that “antibiotic resistance is ancient, diverse, and astonishingly widespread in nature—including within our own bodies,” says anthropologist Christina Warinner of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, who is not a co-author. “Such findings and their implications explain why antibiotic resistance was so quick to develop after the introduction of therapeutic antibiotics, and why we today should be very concerned about the proper use and management of antibiotics in both clinical and agricultural contexts.”
It’s still possible that the people are not as isolated as thought, since they obtained machetes, cans and T-shirts, Live Science says. If the conclusions of the researchers are valid, though, it undermines a claim for rapid evolution, and gives credence to the creationist counter-argument that resistance genes were already present in the bacteria and did not arise de novo. Nature‘s coverage said nothing about evolution.
For decades, evolutionists have pointed to antibiotic resistance as proof of evolution in debates and articles. No wonder this is troubling. It’s also another instance of the facts forcing them to push the origin of things into the unobserved past.
The warfare metaphor is misleading. Nature is full of pushes and pulls that usually provide balance (homeostasis). Bacteria are not the evildoers they are often portrayed to be; nor are antibiotics the good guys with the white hats. We couldn’t live without most bacteria. There’s more of them than our own cells inside our bodies. Most of what they do is beneficial for both them and us. We can envision our Creator providing balance in the beginning, but loosening that balance at the curse on sin, leading to sickness and death. He has also given mankind the brains to figure out how things work, so that we can attempt to restore the balance as far as possible.
The contrast of the evolutionists’ mission with Jim Elliott’s mission is striking. Elliott and his colleagues went to remote Amazon tribes to win them to Christ; the biologists went to dig into their scat. For sure, some of them wished to help the tribes people with their diseases, particularly the children. But it’s apparent they also wanted to find evidence for evolution. The findings were contrary to their expectations.
We’re not saying the missions are necessarily mutually exclusive. You can go to a tribe to help them spiritually and physically. Many missionaries, in fact, do that. There are terrific medical missionary teams around the world that build hospitals in foreign lands, ministering to the body and the spirit of the poor. Ministering to the spirit is a doorway to people’s minds as well as hearts, giving them the worldview tools to understand themselves and their world. That, in turn, can lead to better understanding of science and healthy living. If the motivation is to use people as guinea pigs for Darwin, though, that would indeed be troubling.