Post 3: Pathways of Resistance

In my mind, one of the greatest achievements of research is not only producing something that can be understood by the academic community, but by those who don’t have a PhD or Masters or even a Bachelors degree in the sciences. In this post I hope to break down the more complicated explanations I’ve found in the articles I’ve read to a clearer, simpler version of how antibiotic use in agriculture influences antibiotic resistance. I must admit, even this attempt at a “less complicated” version of the pathways of resistance will still be quite complicated. This is because there are multiple pathways that are all two-way streets so to speak. In total, there are four general pathways that the animal can interact with and resistant bacteria can move through. The first is the physical environment: soil, air, water, manure, et cetera. The second is the interactions that occur between animals: feeding, drinking, birthing, and general herd or flock behaviors. The third is the processing of the animal: shipment, slaughter, packaging, and storage. Finally, the fourth pathway is how humans handle the meat once it is purchased. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be spread at any point along the route, making it difficult to separate what resistance antibiotics being fed to livestock caused, and what was caused by other sources. This is what I feel makes my research topic so difficult. Antibiotic resistance is dynamic in nature. What amount of resistance would occur naturally? What percentage of antibiotic resistant infections is caused directly by livestock rather than other sources? In other words, what is the true impact of agricultural antibiotic use? Without knowing this answer, we cannot begin to make decisions in policy or seek solutions to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Nevertheless, I hope to present some possible options in future posts to lead us closer to that answer.