One of the most common forms of hospital superbug MRSA may have developed in response to widespread antibiotic use, new research has suggested.
Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire have developed a way to track infection genetically, and claim MRSA appeared in Europe during the 1960s - when antibiotics became regularly used.
Using DNA-mapping technology, the scientists found letter changes in the bacteria's genetic code and compared their relation to other forms in individual cases. This allowed them to track bacterial transmission between patients in hospitals, but also between countries.
The technique also led to the discovery that an MRSA outbreak at an intensive care unit in London may have come from a single infected patient who picked up a bacterial strain originating in south-east Asia.
The research, published in Science, is expected to improve superbug control strategies.
Co-author of the study, Dr Sharon Peacock, from Cambridge University, said: "Our research should inform global surveillance strategies to track the spread of MRSA.
"The implications for public health are clear: this technology represents the potential to trace transmission pathways of MRSA more definitively so that interventions or treatments can be targeted with precision and according to need."