An alarming new superbug gene that makes bacteria resistant to a last-resort antibiotic has been detected in Canada, the Star has learned.

The gene, called MCR-1, produces an enzyme that makes bacteria invincible to colistin, a highly toxic antibiotic used only when all other drugs have failed.

MCR-1 was first reported in November by scientists in China, who published a paper in The Lancet that set off alarm bells across the globe. Analyzing bacterial samples in southeastern China, researchers found 260 samples of E. coli with the MCR-1 gene on meat, hospital patients and farm animals — the likely source of this new superbug, the paper suggests.

But 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.

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