1,600 feet under New Mexico is Lechuguilla Cave, where scientists found a life form — bacteria, really — millions of years old. What's more important about this bacteria is that it has been isolated from humanity for millions of years.
Microbiologist Hazel Barton of Northern Kentucky University and her team picked up bacterial samples from the walls and found ones that are "superbugs," or those that are resistant to antibiotics. One of the samples from the cave, Paenibacillus, is an example of these "superbugs." It has a big difference, however: it's nonpathogenic.
When the word "superbug" is mention it's normally time to freak out, since people think of the ones in hospitals and animal farms. Nonpathogenic bacteria are the type that does not cause illness in humans. That means the ancient superbug of Lechuguilla can get past defenses, but it won't hurt you – a kind of "hero bug."
The research from Luchiguilla Cave showed surprising discoveries. The fact that even at its age it is resistant means that the idea of antibiotic resistance isn't as new as we thought it was. Maybe it's something "hardwired into bacteria."
These million-year finds are important for medicine and pharmaceuticals. We're getting closer to a point where the antibiotics we use now are becoming powerless against stronger, resistant strains of bacteria. One strain of E.coli has even become resistant to an antibiotic used as a last resort.
There are plenty of other rock formations to explore and sample in this cave. There are also caves in other parts of the world that may hold the secrets to new antibiotics as well. All scientists have to do is put on their gear and start spelunking.