A new gene that makes bacteria highly resistant to a last-resort class of antibiotics has been found in people and pigs in China – including in samples of bacteria with epidemic potential, researchers said on Wednesday.

The discovery was described as “alarming” by scientists, who called for urgent restrictions on the use of polymyxins – a class of antibiotics that includes the drug colistin and is widely used in livestock farming.

“All use of polymyxins must be minimized as soon as possible and all unnecessary use stopped,” said Laura Piddock, a professor of microbiology at Britain’s Birmingham University who was asked to comment on the finding.

Researchers led by Hua Liu from the South China Agricultural University who published their work in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found the gene, called mcr-1, on plasmids – mobile DNA that can be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria.

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