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Scientists Speak - World Soil Day - Antibiotic Resistance - Durso
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ARS Celebrates World Soil Day: Soil Bacteria and Limiting Antibiotic Resistance

Lisa Durso, ARS Research Microbiologist, Agroecosystem Management Research Unit (Lincoln, NE)

Dr. Durso is coordinating a collaborative research project with partners in Canada and Mexico which will enable them to better understand antimicrobial resistance in soils.

What is the objective of your project?

“To discover the details of how antibiotic resistance survives in, and moves through soil, by measuring four specific targets. We want to identify which types of resistance in the soil are the most important for human and animal health, both in the U.S. and globally, so that limited resources can be used where they will have the most impact.”

Can you tell us about your soil research project and the international collaboration involved?

“We have developed a way for ARS scientists across the U.S. to collaborate even though they are at different locations and working in different animal and plant production systems. The current core ARS group involves researchers from eight different locations throughout the U.S.* This project is based on a similar effort already underway by the NORMAN network in Europe where researchers are collecting antibiotic resistance information from multiple countries across the EU.  (The NORMAN Network enhances the exchange of information on emerging environmental substances.) At a meeting of a bilateral working group between federal agricultural researchers in the U.S. and Canada, this plan was discussed and researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada joined the project. And at an ARS workshop on Alternatives to Antibiotics, the investigators were introduced to a researcher from Mexico’s National Institute for Agriculture and Livestock who has also expressed interest in joining the effort. Once this collaborative model has gone through additional testing, it will be a tool that can be used for national and international collaborations of any scale.

There are many large-scale international research efforts underway to better understand antimicrobial resistance and how to combat it. This project’s approach is different: the investigators select a limited number of targets and test them using simple, inexpensive, widely available tools using a modified crowd-sourced approach. The project is aimed at individual researchers, and does not require long-term commitment. Whether a contributing scientist can collect and process many samples over a long period of time, or just a few samples for a single project, their results can still be added to the community information and contribute to understanding of antibiotic resistance in soils. The core group (hails) from ARS in Ames, Mississippi State, Florence SC, Kimberly ID, Lincoln NE, Riverside CA, Peoria IL and Maricopa AZ.”

How has your work with international partners benefitted your project? What skills/expertise/other contributions have they brought to this research?

Global solutions require global perspectives. It is exciting to partner with international collaborators because they bring expertise and an in-depth, understanding of their own soil systems that is needed to find real-life solutions to antibiotic resistance that people will use.  International collaboration allows us to pull resources individually and study our own systems, but at the same time share information across borders in order to better understand our location and those around us as well.”

What are some of the critical research areas that still need to be addressed?

“One thing that is important is to figure out what baseline levels of resistance are in different soils.  Resistance occurs naturally in soils, so we need to know the baseline levels to figure out if what we are doing to fix the problem, actually is working.  We are doing what USAID and other large organizations do at a much smaller scale, and with a focus on soils and agricultural systems. Therefore we do not have much of a model to draw from but would like to collect as much data as possible (data storage).”

Since we’re commemorating World Soil Day, our audience will be thinking about the importance of soil to our ecosystem and food supply. What is one thing you would like everyone to remember about [soil health/soil, AMR, and food safety]?  

“Soils are both the source of antibiotic resistance, and the potential solution to antibiotic resistance. Many antibiotic drugs were discovered from the soil, and there is great hope in new discoveries that come from soil bacteria. The soils are able to remediate the resistance in manures, and they hold the solutions for limiting the spread of resistance on farms and in fields. In other words, soils are key to limiting the spread of the resistance on farms and in fields, and are important for human and animal health.”