Antimicrobial Resistance or AMR occurs naturally in bacteria and AMR far predates human existence. However, AMR is a complicated issue and there are many factors that contribute to its development in agricultural environments. As USDA’s in-house research agency, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the only agency within the Federal government charged to research, develop, and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority, like AMR. The goal of ARS’s AMR work is to explain the different factors associated with AMR in agricultural settings and to develop tools that mitigate AMR for the benefit of human, animal and ecosystem health.
ARS supports 25 multidisciplinary AMR research projects. ARS’s research spans the entire spectrum of agricultural production and food safety including developing new antibiotics and antibiotic alternatives, and understanding factors leading to AMR in agricultural environments and in foodborne bacteria.
Antibiotic Resistance is a Natural Process and is Everywhere
Many antibiotics used for fighting infections come from naturally occurring compounds found in the environment. ARS Research from Nebraska shows that antibiotic resistant bacteria are present in all soils regardless of whether it has been grazed by animals. Another project in Georgia shows that antibiotic resistant bacteria are found on antibiotic-free poultry farms, while a similar project in Nebraska showed that beef cattle raised without antibiotics shed similar levels of AMR as conventionally raised cattle.
It is Possible to Mitigate AMR
ARS is researching strategies to mitigate AMR in the environment. There are projects in Kentucky that show composting of swine manure decreases the concentration of antibiotic resistance genes present in manure. There is another project in South Carolina that shows a process called hydrothermal carbonization eliminates antibiotic resistance bacteria and their genes.
Research from Nebraska shows that interventions used during beef processing effectively reduce AMR. Others have identified control points and reservoirs of resistance that can be targets for future interventions. ARS animal health researchers across the country are focused on developing vaccines and diagnostic tools to help prevent diseases that commonly require antibiotic treatments.
ARS Develops New Therapeutics
Over 70 years ago, in Illinois, ARS developed mass production techniques for penicillin that was used to treat wounded Allied soldiers during World War II. Today, that same laboratory has retooled an antibiotic, Tunicamycin, so that it makes other penicillin antibiotics stronger to fight resistant infections.
ARS research continues to make valuable contributions to understand AMR transmission and to develop unique solutions that will protect human, animal and environmental health for generations to come.