The hedgehog, bacteria factory resistant to antibiotics

Dn the Covid-19 pandemic which has hit us for two years now, the bat has had its heyday. Few people are now unaware of the bats’ talent for living with viruses or our ability to dig into this reservoir. Flying mammals have nothing to do with it: we pay for our own thirst for conquest and our inability to give way to other animals.

Resistance to antibiotics is another story of greed, that of the reckless use of our most beautiful inventions to the point of condemning them to impotence. By dint of stuffing ourselves with these drugs, watering our children and our cattle, we have pushed bacteria to find defenses. A story of humans and farm animals, therefore. But we will have to get used to it: we did not invent anything entirely on our own, even our greatest sins.

Read the focus: Article reserved for our subscribers Antibiotic resistance, a major health problem

An international team coordinated by the University of Cambridge has just shown that certain staphylococci aureus resistant to methicillins were already present, two centuries ago, on the dermis of hedgehogs, in other words long before the invention of antibiotics, in the middle from XXe century. These results were published on Wednesday January 5 in the journal Nature.

This discovery originates from a first observation, made by Swedish and Danish veterinarians: they noticed that 60% of Scandinavian hedgehogs carried resistant staphylococci. “We wanted to understand why”, said Mark Holmes, team coordinator. An international collaboration has made it possible to sample different regions, in Europe but also at the antipodes, such as New Zealand. And in most of the countries studied – France is one of the exceptions – these superbugs, classified in the ten worst health threats by the WHO, have been found in large quantities.

“A normal biological process”

By studying the different strains, scientists have drawn up their phylogenetic tree and established that this resistance dates back to the beginning of the 19th century.e century. The team also showed that a mushroom dubbed Trichophyton erinacei, well known to live under the stinging of these dear creatures, naturally produced antibiotics of the methicillin family, this class of molecules which succeeded penicillin when the latter encountered its first resistance. As this spiky forest also happens to be the playground of Staphilococcus aureus, the latter have acquired the tusks allowing them to cohabit.

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