Antibiotic resistance is increasing throughout the world due to concentrated animal feeding operations, according to researchers from Michigan State University (MSU). It appears that multidrug-resistant bacteria are prevalent in large swine farms, where drugs are used in feed for prevention of diseases.

A team of researchers has analyzed extensive pork farms in China and one population of swines in the U.S. In those places, they discovered partner genes, which are resistance genes and mobile genetic elements found together, said MSU in a press release issued Tuesday.

Antibiotic resistance is increasing throughout the world due to concentrated animal feeding operations. Photo credit:
Antibiotic resistance is increasing throughout the world due to concentrated animal feeding operations. Photo credit: Wallpaper Awesome

When a gene augments or declines in abundance, partner genes follow almost the same behavior. James Tiedje, co-author of the study and MSU professor of microbiology, said that detecting the source of antibiotics resistance is not an easy task since its use is widespread and resistance can even spread between bacteria.

“In the fight against the rise of antibiotic resistance, we need to understand that the use of one antibiotic or, in some cases, antibacterial disinfectants may increase the abundance of multidrug-resistant bacteria,” said professor Tiedje in a press release.

How can humans be impacted by the extended use of antibiotics in swine farms?

Professor Tiedje explained that Chinese farms are located nearby large cities. As a response, it is important to control antibiotic resistance in pigs and farms, as a preventive measure to minimize human risk, researchers suggested.

Finding sources of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major health concern that costs about $20 billion in health care costs per year, to the United States. Professor Tiedje explained that “this global issue” is not exclusive to China since multidrug resistance is “just a plane ride away”

The team added that the work on antibiotics is as relevant in China as in the U.S. It appears that some partner genes are capable of making bacteria resistant to some antibiotics, that are not even included in the food given to porks.

A theory proposed that these partner genes were found in the same bacteria that were resistant to one of the antibiotics given to the swines. As a consequence, when one antibiotic is used, resistance to other antibiotics can augment, the team explained.

Tim Johnson, lead author with MSU’s Center for Microbial Ecology, said that researchers found 14 partner genes at the Chinese farms, which grant resistance to six kinds of antibiotics while some allow bacteria to “reshuffle the order of their genes”

Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is among the “most pressing” public health issues. For instance, illnesses that were easily controlled can become serious infections for children and adults.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are every day more difficult to kill and more expensive to treat, leading to disability or death is some cases. The CDC explained that bacteria, not people, is what become resistant to drugs.

“Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria (bacteria that antibiotics can still attack) are killed, but resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply,” said the CDC.

Professor Tiedje has concluded that the new findings can help governments and health regulators, to create new policies and guidelines for cautious antibiotic use, in order to reduce “antibiotic resistance genes spread to pathogens” (bacteria or virus that can cause disease).

Source: MSU Press Release