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ISME J. 2007 Jul;1(3):191-203. Epub 2007 May 24.

The effects of subtherapeutic antibiotic use in farm animals on the proliferation and persistence of antibiotic resistance among soil bacteria.

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Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455-0116, USA.


The use of antibiotics at subtherapeutic concentrations for agricultural applications is believed to be an important factor in the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The goal of this study was to determine if the application of manure onto agricultural land would result in the proliferation of antibiotic resistance among soil bacteria. Chlortetracycline-resistant bacteria were enumerated and characterized from soils exposed to the manure of animals fed subtherapeutic concentrations of antibiotics and compared to the chlortetracycline-resistant bacteria from soils at farms with restricted antibiotic use (dairy farms) and from non-agricultural soils. No significant differences were observed at nine different study sites with respect to the numbers and types of cultivated chlortetracycline-resistant bacteria. Genes encoding for tetracycline resistance were rarely detected in the resistant bacteria from these sites. In contrast, soils collected from a tenth farm, which allowed manure to indiscriminately accumulate outside the animal pen, had significantly higher chlortetracycline-resistance levels. These resistant bacteria frequently harbored one of 14 different genes encoding for tetracycline resistance, many of which (especially tet(A) and tet(L)) were detected in numerous different bacterial species. Subsequent bacterial enumerations at this site, following the cessation of farming activity, suggested that this farm remained a hotspot for antibiotic resistance. In conclusion, we speculate that excessive application of animal manure leads to the spread of resistance to soil bacteria (potentially by lateral gene transfer), which then serve as persistent reservoir of antibiotic resistance.

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