Tracing Antibiotic Resistance in E. coli from Farm Animals and People

Greg Howard
11th March, 2024

Tracing Antibiotic Resistance in E. coli from Farm Animals and People

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In southern India, E. coli from livestock, poultry, and humans showed multi-drug resistance
  • These bacteria had over 20 genes for both antibiotic resistance and biofilm formation
  • Shared E. coli strains between animals and humans suggest a risk of resistance spreading
Antibiotic resistance poses a significant challenge to global health, affecting humans, animals, and the environment. This resistance is especially problematic when it involves Escherichia coli (E. coli), a common bacterium found in the intestines of humans and animals. Some strains of E. coli can cause serious infections, and when these bacteria carry antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), treating those infections becomes more difficult. A recent investigation by the ICAR-National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics[1] has provided new insights into the genetic relationships and the prevalence of ARGs among E. coli strains in India. This study focused on E. coli isolated from livestock, poultry, and their human handlers, aiming to uncover the extent of antibiotic resistance and potential risks to public health. The research team utilized whole genome sequencing to analyze the genetic content of 20 E. coli isolates. This advanced technique allowed them to identify the resistome (the collection of ARGs), the virulome (the collection of virulence genes that enable bacteria to cause disease), and genes involved in biofilm formation, which can protect bacteria from antibiotics and the host immune system. The findings revealed that these E. coli strains were multi-drug resistant, containing more than 20 ARGs. They also harbored between 17 and 22 virulence genes and over 20 key biofilm genes. Interestingly, some isolates from poultry, swine, and cattle had composite transposons – mobile genetic elements that can carry clusters of ARGs and virulence genes, enabling them to spread between different bacteria. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST), a method for characterizing bacterial strains based on the sequences of internal fragments of multiple housekeeping genes, identified two sequence types (ST937 and ST3107) present in both animals and their handlers. Phylogenomic analysis, which compares whole genome sequences to infer evolutionary relationships, showed that these E. coli strains were closely related to strains from various parts of the world, including the United States and China. These results are alarming because they demonstrate the potential for E. coli with clinically important resistance genes to spread within and between species. This is particularly concerning in the context of earlier studies that have highlighted the global distribution of AMR[2], the interconnectedness of antibiotic use and resistance in the human-animal-environment triangle[3], and the presence of AMR genes in community settings[4]. The study's findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive surveillance and intervention strategies to control the spread of antibiotic resistance. This aligns with the One Health approach, which recognizes that the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems is interconnected[3]. It suggests that efforts to mitigate AMR should not only focus on human medicine but also consider the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals and the environmental impact of these practices. The research also supports the geographical mapping of AMR hotspots, as previously suggested[2], to target surveillance and control efforts more effectively. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of a global perspective on AMR, considering that resistance genes can spread across continents. In conclusion, the study by the ICAR-National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics adds to the growing body of evidence that AMR is a complex, multi-faceted issue requiring coordinated international action. The identification of shared E. coli strains between livestock, poultry, and humans highlights the need for a One Health approach to tackle antibiotic resistance, which is crucial for safeguarding the future of antibiotic efficacy and, consequently, human and animal health worldwide.



Main Study

1) Genetic insights of antibiotic resistance, pathogenicity (virulence) and phylogenetic relationship of Escherichia coli strains isolated from livestock, poultry and their handlers - a one health snapshot.

Published 8th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Global surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in food animals using priority drugs maps.

3) Evolution and implementation of One Health to control the dissemination of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and resistance genes: A review.

4) Antibiotic resistance genes of public health importance in livestock and humans in an informal urban community in Nepal.

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