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J Anim Sci. 2013 May;91(5):2395-404. doi: 10.2527/jas.2012-5714. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

Presence and biological activity of antibiotics used in fuel ethanol and corn co-product production.

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  • 1Department of Animal Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.


Antibiotics are used in ethanol production to control bacteria from competing with yeast for nutrients during starch fermentation. However, there is no published scientific information on whether antibiotic residues are present in distillers grains (DG), co-products from ethanol production, or whether they retain their biological activity. Therefore, the objectives of this study were to quantify concentrations of various antibiotic residues in DG and determine whether residues were biologically active. Twenty distillers wet grains and 20 distillers dried grains samples were collected quarterly from 9 states and 43 ethanol plants in the United States. Samples were analyzed for DM, CP, NDF, crude fat, S, P, and pH to describe the nutritional characteristics of the samples evaluated. Samples were also analyzed for the presence of erythromycin, penicillin G, tetracycline, tylosin, and virginiamycin M1, using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. Additionally, virginiamycin residues were determined, using a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved bioassay method. Samples were extracted and further analyzed for biological activity by exposing the sample extracts to 10(4) to 10(7) CFU/mL concentrations of sentinel bacterial strains Escherichia coli ATCC 8739 and Listeria monocytogenes ATCC 19115. Extracts that inhibited bacterial growth were considered to have biological activity. Physiochemical characteristics varied among samples but were consistent with previous findings. Thirteen percent of all samples contained low (≤1.12 mg/kg) antibiotic concentrations. Only 1 sample extract inhibited growth of Escherichia coli at 10(4) CFU/mL, but this sample contained no detectable concentrations of antibiotic residues. No extracts inhibited Listeria monocytogenes growth. These data indicate that the likelihood of detectable concentrations of antibiotic residues in DG is low; and if detected, they are found in very low concentrations. The inhibition in only 1 DG sample by sentinel bacteria suggests that antibiotic residues in DG were inactivated during the production process or are present in sublethal concentrations.

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