Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria From the Fukushima Nuclear Accident?, Neurobiologist Dr. Douglas Fields, Jan. 9, 2011:
Bacteria are notorious for developing resistance to antibiotics through rapid mutation and natural selection. Radiation is a sure way to stimulate mutations. Could the radiation that will be contaminating the environment surrounding the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant for hundreds of years produce bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics?
Researchers, Shigeyuki Nakanishi and colleagues reporting in the February 1, 2012 issue of the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety have performed experiments to find out. [...]
Although the highly contaminated vicinity surrounding the plant has been evacuated, nothing can stop wildlife, such as birds, from entering the restricted area, and the potential harmful effects from irradiating unseen bacteria in the contamination zone have escaped notice until now.
Shigeyuki Nakanishi and colleagues examined the potential effect of gamma radiation equivalent to levels in the environment surrounding the Fukushima plant to determine if doses equivalent to exposure for 1, 10, and 100 years could alter antibiotic resistance of several types of bacteria.
Results from One-Time Exposure of Radiation
The results showed that none of these doses of gamma radiation increased resistance to 14 different antibiotics. In fact, two bacteria, E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, became slightly more susceptible to antibiotics after gamma ray exposure.
The researchers conclude that there is no evidence to support concern that the Fukushima disaster may have bred antibiotic resistant bacteria. But, the scientists point out in their article; they were forced to treat the bacteria with a one-time exposure of radiation. How bacteria might respond to the actual situation of sub-lethal exposure to radiation surrounding the power plant for years on end is not known. Time will tell.
R. Douglas Fields, Ph. D. is the Chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Most recently, he is the author of The Other Brain.
Published: January 9th, 2012 at 12:44 pm ET