Researchers investigate antibiotic resistance

Jessie Bekker

Scientists are trying to figure out how to keep bacteria that can defy antibiotics out of grocery stores and waterways.
 
Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine are looking for a way to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can get into the environment and affect human health. 
 
A $2.25 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture will allow veterinary and biomedical sciences professor Randall Singer and his team to monitor resistant bacteria in chickens and turkeys for the next three years.
 
The bacteria typically enter the environment through poultry. Chickens and turkeys are often stored in small crates with wood shavings at the bottom. The poultry stomp around on the shavings, which are then turned into fertilizer for farms.
 
“Everywhere you go, you will find resistance,” Singer said.
 
Researchers will spend more than six months monitoring bacteria carried by poultry and feed them antibiotics so they can test for resistance. They hope to discover a way to reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria in sources that carry it and pass it on.
 
The team of researchers will also send surveys to farmers asking about how they use antibiotics in their poultry, Singer said.
 
The farmers will send back their completed surveys, along with a sample of wood shavings from chicken cages, he said.
 
Many people assume bacteria resist antibiotics when humans overuse them, Singer said.
 
But farmers also use small amounts of antibiotics in animal food to make their livestock mature more quickly, said Carl Marrs, an associate professor of epidemiology from the University of Michigan. 
 
Singer has been studying antibiotic resistance for almost two decades, but he hasn’t garnered enough funding to conduct any major studies.
 
“This is work that should’ve been done many years ago,” he said.
 
Singer said he hopes the research will help veterinarians better understand which antibiotics to give animals — and how much of them — to ultimately improve treatment methods in their clinics.
 
The growing problem is marked by the inability to develop antibiotics as bacteria become resistant, Marrs said.
 
In the past five years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved one new antibiotic, which isn’t enough to combat resistant bacteria, he said.
 
Efforts are still being made across the globe to develop new drugs, he said.
 
“We need, as a whole society, to recognize it’s a precious resource to use these antibiotics,” he said.