1950s Farming Practices May Be To Blame For Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance in both horses and humans has been increasing at an alarming rate, and with it the concern of losing a key tool in the arsenal of eliminating disease.

While thought to be a new phenomenon, antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolved and spread in the 1950s through low doses of penicillin fed to livestock in North America and Europe, new research shows. Molecular analysis of samples of Salmonella at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, shows human resistance to ampicillin years before the antibiotic was used in human pharmacology.

The study was released weeks after the World Health Organization (WHO) called for the end to routine antibiotic additives in animal feed to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy farm animals. The new research suggests that the antibiotic residue in waste water, soil and manure may have a greater impact on antibiotic resistance than originally believed.

In Europe, antibiotic resistance kills about 25,000 people a year; this number is predicted to rise to more than 10 million people worldwide by 2050 as many bacteria that cause serious infections in humans (like Salmonella) have already developed resistance to common antibiotics.

The first broad-spectrum penicillin used to treat Enterobacteria, ampicillin was relseased in the UK in 1961. In 1962-1964, the first bacteria resistant cases were confirmed. Researchers were intrigued by the short timeline and tested 288 historical samples collected from animals, humans, food and feed in Asia, Africa, Europe and America between 1911 and 1969. Samples were tested for antibiotic susceptibility using whole genome sequencing.

Researchers found various ampicillin-resistance genes in 3.8 percent of the human samples. Additionally, mobile DNA that can be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria was found in three isolates taken from humans in France and Tunisia in 1959 and 1960.

This evidence indicates that the “early emergence of ampicillin resistance was due to multiple independent acquisitions of these resistant genes by different bacterial populations and their varying spread across several countries,” reports HorseTalk.

The research indicates that ampicillin resistance had spread in the late 1950s, years before the antibiotic was available on the human medical market. Further research indicated that ampicillin-resistant genes can be successfully transferred after exposure to relatively low levels of penicillin G, which is similar to what was found in the litter of chickens fed with antibiotics in the United States in the 1970s.

Because of this, the researchers are calling for an immediate reevaluation of the use of low levels of antibiotics in livestock feed.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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