Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, according to World Health Organisation. It is also a known fact that new resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally which derails our ability to treat common infectious diseases.

The use of antibiotics in aquaculture is particularly a matter of grave concern, fish being a vital source of food for people worldwide. This point was, once again, driven home by researchers from the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Campinas in Brazil a few days ago. To get a better insight into antibiotic resistance and to discover the mechanisms responsible for resistance development the researchers studied fish raised in aquaculture. The research team specifically studied Piaractus mesopotamicus, a South American species known as pacu that is often raised in aquaculture.
The fish under study received the antibiotic florfenicol in their food for 34 days while the researchers took samples from their digestive tract during this time and after the application period and looked for relevant genetic changes in the gut bacteria. As expected, administration of antibiotic induced an increase in the genes responsible for resistance to the particular antibiotic.

The researchers were particularly surprised by the different mechanisms by which antibiotic resistance genes are spread amongst the gut bacteria of the fish. In other words, this suggested that bacteria also exchange resistance through viruses, known as phages and transposons. Till now, it is thought that only plasmids (easily transferable mini-chromosomes) are mainly responsible for the exchange of resistance genes.

The metagenomic studies undertaken by the researchers, however, confirmed that the mobile genetic elements also induced a faster distribution of resistance genes among genomes of different organisms.
The finding that resistance is also extensively transferred between bacteria sans the involvement of plasmaids has prompted the researchers to question whether and to what extent the world’s increasing number of aquacultures should continue the use antibiotics.

The bottom line of the research is revealing and there for everyone to see. That is, in a world, where people are becoming increasingly conscious about the food they choose and consume, those who are in the business of aquaculture should become extra cautious about the feed that goes into every fish and about safety of every fish that goes to feed human hunger. Let us feed health, not poison to create healthy individuals and a healthy world. That is the only way to thrive in a globalized market.

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