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Agricultural Antibiotic Use and Antibiotic Resistance

Summary and Comment |
March 13, 2013

Agricultural Antibiotic Use and Antibiotic Resistance

  1. Richard T. Ellison III, MD

Numerous unique antibiotic-resistance genes were abundant in manure and soil samples from Chinese swine farms.

  1. Richard T. Ellison III, MD

China is now the largest worldwide producer and consumer of antibiotics. In 2007, 46% of what was produced was used in the livestock industry. To explore the potential effect of this antibiotic usage, a multinational team of researchers assessed bacterial antibiotic-resistance genes (ARGs) in samples from manure, as well as manure compost and soil receiving manure compost, at three large-scale commercial swine farms in different regions of China.

Tetracyclines, sulfonamides, and fluoroquinolones were all present in the farm samples. In addition, the samples yielded 149 unique microbial ARGs, encompassing the three major resistance mechanisms — efflux pump, antibiotic deactivation, and cellular protection — and potentially conferring resistance to aminoglycosides, β-lactams, fluoroquinolones, macrolides, tetracyclines, chloramphenicol, and vancomycin. Compared with control samples from pigs never fed antibiotics and soil from a pristine forest, the farm samples showed marked enrichment of ARGs, with maximum enrichment seen in a manure sample from one farm (121,000-fold) and a compost sample from another (57,000-fold). Sixty-three unique ARGs were significantly enriched in at least one farm sample, for an overall median enrichment of 192-fold across all farm samples. Transposases (which mediate gene transfer) were also enriched up to 90,000-fold in manure samples and up to 1000-fold in soil samples from the commercial farms.

Comment

Although several recent studies have suggested that ARGs predate the modern use of antibiotics (JW Infect Dis Sep 14 2011), this work clearly shows that agricultural antibiotic usage can greatly amplify their presence in the environment. Given the concern that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now one of our greatest public health threats, international efforts are needed to eliminate antibiotic use for growth promotion in the livestock industry.

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