Science

Plants may be spreading superbugs to humans

Researchers have now shown how plant-foods serve as vehicles for transmitting antibiotic resistance to the gut microbiome.

Researchers have now shown how plant-foods serve as vehicles for transmitting antibiotic resistance to the gut microbiome.   | Photo Credit: Alison Bowden

Spell threat to global public health.

Plant-based foods can transmit antibiotic resistance to the microbes living in our gut, a study has found. Antibiotic-resistant infections are a threat to global public health, food safety and an economic burden.

To prevent these infections, it is critical to understand how these bacteria are transmitted.

Researchers have now shown how plant-foods serve as vehicles for transmitting antibiotic resistance to the gut microbiome.

“Our findings highlight the importance of tackling food-borne antibiotic-resistance from a food chain perspective including plant-foods and meat,” said Marlene Maeusli, a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California.

Spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs from plants to humans is different from outbreaks of diarrheal illnesses caused immediately after eating contaminated vegetables. Superbugs can asymptomatically hide in (colonise) the intestines for months or even years, and while escaping, cause an infection.

The researchers developed a novel, lettuce-mouse model system that does not cause immediate illness to mimic consumption of superbugs with plant-foods.

They grew lettuce, exposed the lettuce to antibiotic-resistant E. coli, fed it to the mice and analysed their faecal samples over time.

“We found differences in the ability of bacteria to silently colonise the gut after ingestion, depending on a variety of host and bacterial factors,” said Mr. Maeusli.

“We mimicked antibiotic and antacid treatments, as both could affect the ability of superbugs to survive passage from the stomach to the intestines,” she said.

Exposure to one type of antibiotic did not increase the ability of superbugs to hide in the mouse intestines, whereas a second antibiotic resulted in stable gut colonisation after ingestion.

Ingestion of bacteria with food also changed colonisation, as did administering an antacid before ingesting the bacteria.

“We continue to seek the plant characteristics and host factors that result in key microbial community shifts in the gut that put us at risk for colonization and those that prevent it,” said Maeusli.

“The environment and human health -- in this context via agriculture and microbiomes -- are inextricably linked,” she said.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 3:31:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/plants-may-be-spreading-superbugs-to-humans/article28118407.ece

Next Story