UK – In an era where antibiotic resistance looms as a global public health threat, a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham has unveiled an innovative approach that could change the game in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

By harnessing the power of big data and machine learning, scientists have delved into the world of poultry farming to identify hidden connections between chickens, their environments, and the ever-persistent germs that are evolving resistance to antibiotics.

Over the course of two and a half years, Dr. Tania Dottorini, a leading expert in Bioinformatics, and her team embarked on a remarkable journey through ten expansive chicken farms and four interconnected abattoirs spread across three provinces in China—a nation that stands as one of the largest consumers of antimicrobials.

The researchers navigated through a sea of microbiomes, studying chickens, their carcasses, and the environments they inhabited.

Their findings are nothing short of revolutionary. The resulting network of correlations unveiled a multitude of routes that promise to enhance AMR surveillance within the livestock production industry.

This discovery is crucial as the use of antibiotics in livestock farming has been directly linked to the surge in antimicrobial-resistant infections.

Genetic secrets shared between chickens, farms

One of the most astonishing revelations of the study is the identification of several antimicrobial-resistant genes (ARGs) that were not only present in the chickens but also intertwined with the very farms they called home.

These ARGs, believed to be highly transmissible, pose a significant concern in the ongoing battle against antibiotic-resistance.

Furthermore, the research exposed a core subset within the chicken gut microbiome—an ecosystem inhabited by clinically relevant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes.

Remarkably, this core correlates with the resistance profiles of E. coli, a notorious bacteria commonly found in the gut.

What’s more, this core of resistance genes was influenced by environmental factors such as temperature and humidity, which, intriguingly, also correlated with antimicrobial usage.

Global threat demands global solution

The World Health Organization (WHO) has ranked antimicrobial resistance among the top 10 global public health threats, posing a dire risk to our ability to prevent and treat an expanding spectrum of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi.

To tackle this menace, researchers emphasize the need for a holistic approach, one that extends beyond laboratories and encompasses the environment, humans, and food.

The study’s significance is amplified when considering the conditions in which chickens are often housed.

Many countries still employ chicken sheds lacking effective climate control systems, exposing these animals to dramatic fluctuations in temperature and humidity. This, in turn, impacts the core features of the gut microbial community and the resistome, ultimately influencing antibiotic resistance in E. coli.

Pioneering AI-powered solutions

In the words of Dr. Tania Dottorini, “This is an exciting moment.” The research opens doors to AI-powered integrated surveillance methods capable of pinpointing the drivers and mechanisms behind the rise and spread of antimicrobial resistance.

This all-encompassing approach aims to connect the dots across animals, environments, humans, and food. The battle is far from over, but this innovative research has set us on a promising course.

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