News 1 commentlast update:6 Aug 2012

Pig farms increase antibiotic resistance

Researchers have linked tetracycline resistance in bacteria with levels of the antibiotic in soil near Chinese pig farms.

As bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance, scientists fear the emergence of super bugs immune to our pharmaceutical arsenal.
These resistance genes have spread among bacteria in part through the overuse of antibiotics in people and livestock.
Routine use increases resistance
Now researchers have demonstrated how routine antibiotic use at Chinese pig farms may have increased levels of tetracycline resistance in soil bacteria from nearby farmlands (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI 10.1021/es1007802).
"In China and elsewhere, large amounts of antibiotics are used in the animal industry to promote growth," says Yong-Guan Zhu, environmental scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
"If pathogens in the environment are exposed to these antibiotics and develop resistance, this is clearly a health threat to the general public."
Degradation products also harmful
Previous studies have connected tetracycline levels and resistance genes in the environment. But these studies may have underestimated the relationship, Zhu says, by overlooking tetracycline degradation products, which can also kill bacteria.
So he and his colleagues used high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to sensitively measure five typical tetracyclines and 10 degradation products in soil samples from farmlands near nine swine feedlots in Beijing, Tianjin, and Jiaxing, China.
The researchers also detected 15 different tetracycline-resistance genes in the soil. They then quantified levels of five genes with real-time polymerase chain reaction.
Their analysis revealed that the total copy number of the five tetracycline-resistance genes correlated with the total tetracycline concentration, including degradation products, in the soil samples.
The study, which is the first of its kind in China, clearly demonstrates that soils contaminated from animal farms "are major reservoirs of antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment," says Xiangdong Li, environmental engineer at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Dick Ziggers

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    The representative from the Chinese Academy of Science stated, "If pathogens in the environment are exposed to these antibiotics and develop resistance, this is clearly a health threat to the general public."

    This type of speech is often touted. I don't wish to engage in a semantic argument, but there is a mistake that I've repeatedly seen. Exposure to antibiotics DOES NOT CAUSE antibiotic resistance genes to spontaneously generate. The antibiotic pressure selects for those in the population that have resistance, whose genes are therefore be propagated by transverse binary fission. Horizontal gene transfer expands the prevalence and distribution of the genes until pressure is removed. Again, antibiotics to do not CAUSE resistance, they select for resistance. Peer-reviewed literature has shown that once pressure is removed, the prevalence of resistance decreases in the population. This is a subtle but important difference in my view.

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