Sunday, September 1, 2013

Antibiotic Resistance and the Environment

Here is a link to an excellent article on antibiotic resistance and the environment published by Finley and colleagues in this month's Clinical Infectious Diseases.

These authors provide a nice overview of what is known about the relationship of antibiotic resistance and the environment, including a discussion on the origins of antibiotic resistance, selective pressures related to human waste disposal, antibiotic use in animals, et cetera.

All of the antibiotics that have been discovered have largely been adopted from environmental organisms. Microorganisms have been using these compounds (antibiotics) to combat one another for millennia; it is therefore not surprising that the mechanisms for inactivating or bypassing these compounds already exist in the environment. Finley and colleagues refer to the milieu of resistance elements in the environment as the "resistome."

What is highly concerning is that human activities are affecting the 'environmental resistome.' Antibiotic use in animals can lead to environmental contamination with antibiotic resistant bacteria that can thereafter disseminate across human and animal populations. Additionally, resistance that originates from antibiotic selective pressure from use in animals can also spread via water and food contamination.

The authors call for more regulation of non-human antibiotic use and a coordinated "One Health" approach to addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance. One thing is certain: antibiotic resistance is ancient and human activities are driving antibiotic resistance. It has been less than a century since the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics; if we want to continue to benefit from the amazing advances that antibiotics have facilitated much will need to be done to both understand and minimize the impact of environmental health pressures on antibiotic resistance.