A scientist has called the new superbug one of the most important issues of the year.

A scientist has called the new superbug one of the most important issues of the year.

A superbug that first inflicted pain in China but has now been discovered in Canada and a dozen other countries is sounding alarms within the medical community, with one health professor calling it the biggest, but most under-reported, story of 2015.

“It’s clearly the biggest story to come out [in 2015],” said Lance Price, a professor of environmental health at George Washington University, where he studies antibiotic resistance, the Star reported. “There have been horrible things all year, but this is the most disturbing.”

The gene, called MCR-1, produces an enzyme that bolsters the strength of bacteria to the point where even the last-ditch antibiotic treatments – colistin – have no effect.

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MCR-1 was first found by scientists in China in November, when they reported bacteria samples of E. coli contained the gene. Canadian medical experts discovered strains of the gene in December, and shortly after, so did a dozen or so other countries, from Denmark to Algeria to Laos.

And as the Star reported: “The news that really sent a shudder through the scientific community was that MCR-1 is located on a plasmid, a free-floating snippet of DNA that bacteria can easily share, thus spreading the resistance to other organisms.”

The gene has been found on ground beef, on hospital patients and on farm animals; it’s believed the source of the bug is likely the last.

The big fear is that bacteria could “acquire MCR-1” and render antibiotics useless, said microbiologist Jason Tetro, in the Globe and Mail.

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But simply eating food with the gene doesn’t necessary bring a health ailment.

“You typically need to ingest thousands if not hundreds of thousands of bacteria to cause infection,” Tetro said. “If you don’t, the bacteria will most likely flow through you and back out into the environment. There’s also the possibility that the bacterium with the gene will just die in your gut, anyway.”

Some of the discovered cases of MCR-1 infected samples hailed back to 2010. Tetro explained that delay between discovery and public notification as “no one was looking for it,” he said.

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