Meats are considered the chief carrier of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but a new study finds that it could also be transmitted to humans through the consumption of plant foods, which may pose health risks for the general public. The findings of the study are presented at the American Society for Microbiology meeting.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that of the two million antibiotic-resistant infections per year in the country, 20 percent are linked to agriculture.
This estimate is based on patients who directly acquire antibiotic-resistant superbugs from eating meat.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers developed a novel, lettuce-mouse model system that does not cause immediate illness to mimic the consumption of superbugs with plant-foods.
They grew lettuce, exposed it to antibiotic-resistant E. coli, fed it to the mice, and analyzed their fecal samples over time.
"We found differences in the ability of bacteria to silently colonize the gut after ingestion, depending on a variety of host and bacterial factors," said Maeusli.
"We mimicked antibiotic and antacid treatments, as both could affect the ability of superbugs to survive the passage from the stomach to the intestines."
Little has been done till date to determine how eating plants contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
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 or "colonize" the intestines for months or even years, when they then escape the intestine and cause an infection, such as a urinary infection.
"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 the researchers at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.