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Mobilization of antimicrobial resistance traits from agriculture and aquaculture to food

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Antimicrobial resistance is a subject of concern not just for clinical microbiologists, but for the whole human population. As well as treating human infections, antibiotics are needed for non-human clinical use such as in veterinary practice and aquaculture. The advent of antibiotic use made a significant ...

Antimicrobial resistance is a subject of concern not just for clinical microbiologists, but for the whole human population. As well as treating human infections, antibiotics are needed for non-human clinical use such as in veterinary practice and aquaculture. The advent of antibiotic use made a significant contribution to the relief of human and animal suffering. The variety of infectious organisms led to a prolonged period of antibiotic discovery and development, with many families of antimicrobials agents coming to market. Whilst bacterial populations will naturally contain variation in their antibiotic susceptibility, the persistent application of antibiotics will act as a selective pressure and has driven some resistance to levels of clinical significance.

Over the same time-period as the development of the antibiotics, the increase in the human population means there is a need to ensure sufficient food is produced and wastage is minimised. Good husbandry is key to maximise food productivity and, alongside this, antibiotics are used in primary food production. They are used for animal and fish health, both for treating an individual animal’s infection or when impractical to apply individually, are used on a large-scale (ie. a herd) to reduce widespread infection.
The food pyramid, as taught in school with the primary producers being eaten by the secondary producers and so on up to the top ‘predator’, reflects not only the complexities of the food web but also the potential exchanges of bacteria and genes in the ecosystem. Genes encoding for antibiotic resistance traits may be carried by the commensal flora in the gut of humans, animals, birds and fish. It therefore reminds us that stewardship of antibiotic usage is not only required by clinicians in human treatment, but also those responsible for their administration in non-human clinical use, as well as food production, especially agricultural and aquaculture. Commonly referred to as ‘One Health’.

This special theme/collection of Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems aims to bring together the debate and evidence concerning the driving factors in the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, the links between human and non-human use of antibiotics and especially the mobilization and distribution of antibiotic resistance in the food chain both in pathogenic and commensal flora. Only with such broad knowledge of the inter-connectivity can control be applied to conserve the use of antibiotics for a future generation.


Keywords: Antimicrobial resistance, Antibiotics, Selective pressure, Food chain, Animal health, Aquaculture, Food web, Food production, One Health


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