Antibiotic Resistance Hot Spots Identified
"Bacteria can do this weird thing that we can't -- exchange DNA directly between unrelated organisms," says Dr. Dantas, an associate professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine. "That means it's relatively easy for disease-causing bacteria that are treatable with antibiotics to become resistant to those antibiotics quickly. If these bacteria happen to come into contact with other microbes that carry resistance genes, those genes can pop over in one step. We estimate that such gene transfer events are generally rare, but they are more likely to occur in the hot spots we identified."
Dr. Dantas and his team surveyed bacteria and their capacity to resist antibiotics in a rural village in El Salvador and a densely populated slum on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. Specifically, they focused their attention on such areas as chicken coops, composting latrines and sewage treatment plans.
While the study was done in developing parts of the world, Dr. Dantas suggests ways the data could be relevant for the United States and other industrialized countries. If the chicken coops of subsistence farmers are hot spots of resistance gene transfer, he speculates that bacteria present in industrial farming operations -- where chickens regularly receive antibiotics -- would see even more pressure to share resistance genes. Dantas expresses concern about such bacteria getting into the food system. Further, the waste water treatment facility the investigators studied in Lima is a modern design that uses technologies typical of such facilitiers around the world, including those in the United States -- suggesting these plants may be hot spots for antibiotic resistance transmission regardless of their location.
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