The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the intramural research arm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Research on Antimicrobial Resistant Microbes (AMR) is an important priority to ARS. Research on AMR by ARS scientists complements the overall goal of improving food safety by identifying the organisms that harbor the genetic elements associated with AMR, conducting research that encompasses the entire spectrum of food safety and pathogen identification, identifying mitigation strategies and developing alternatives to antibiotics.
Priority areas of on-going research include: population-based studies on microbial communities; monitoring emerging pathogens; identifying novel organisms and resistances in ecological communities and determining reservoirs and amplifiers of resistance; and identification of factors that enhance or reduce fitness characteristics of resistant and multidrug resistant microbial populations.
Additionally, ARS research provides improved methods that enable the evaluation of intervention or management strategies that impact the entire food chain from field/farm to plate. Information on how microbial pathogens are transmitted and delineated in and among food producing animals and crops allows the development of alternative and improved intervention and control strategies. Included in these studies is the transfer of AMR genetic elements within and between the environment and hosts.
Using multidisciplinary approaches, ongoing research on AMR embraces technologies that include “omics” (genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics and metagenomics). Included in this research is whole genome sequencing (WGS) for high resolution genotyping and molecular serotyping to identify virulence attributes, AMR genetic elements, and to determine the difference between pathogens and non-pathogens.
The development, persistence and transmission of AMR genes and resistance in foodborne pathogens is also determined using multidisciplinary teams of researchers. Collaborations to provide answers and understand AMR include; microbiologists, geneticists, chemists, animal scientists, horticulturalists, and scientists in every field. ARS provides research support to other federal agencies working on surveillance programs including the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) and the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS).
Development of alternatives to antibiotics including management practices, pre- and probiotics, bacteriophage gene products, lytic enzymes, vaccines and other novel products to reduce the need for antibiotic use in food animals is an important component of ARS AMR research.