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In the Air

A report that DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria was found in Beijing smog has led residents there to worry, the New York Times reports. Follow-up accounts saying that the smog didn't contain live bacteria didn't do much to assuage fears, it adds.

In October, researchers from the University of Gothenburg reported in Microbiome that they'd sequenced 864 metagenomic samples collected from humans, animals, and the environment to gauge the abundance of antibiotic resistance genes. They found that Beijing smog samples contained a high relative abundance and diversity of antibiotic resistance genes.

When these findings were reported, they led Beijing residents like actress Zhang Ziyi to share on social media that she worried that it "made it easier to get sick." News reports about the smog were taken offline and replaced by a statement from a city health official that said there was nothing to worry about, according to the Times. That censorship, though, just made many people think there was something to worry about, it adds.

Gothenburg's Joakim Larsson tells the Times that the study didn't focus on whether there was a risk of infection from breathing the air, and Columbia University's Ian Lipkin, who was not involved in the study, adds that bacteria likely don't replicate in the air.

"We have studied DNA from bacteria in the air and found a large variety of genes that can make bacteria resistant to antibiotics, including some of the most powerful antibiotics we have," study author Larsson tells the Times. "This was a surprising finding to us, and we think it warrants further studies."

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