Name: Alex D. Williams
Project title: Antibiotic resistance on the farm: Evaluating the risks to soil, crop and human health
Where based: University of Nottingham/James Hutton Institute (Aberdeen)
As an undergraduate studying Biology at the University of Derby, microorganisms fascinated me: individual cells so minute that many thousands can fit onto a pinhead, yet their impact on our lives, both good and bad, is enormous. For my undergraduate research project, I assessed the antimicrobial properties of corals and following this, I worked on characterising bacterial community shifts in a reef building coral. This provided me with a suite of molecular techniques as well as a reason (excuse) to later visit the Maldives. I now intend to use these skills to advance understanding of the risk posed by antibiotic resistance in agriculture.
Considering that up to 80% of antibiotics administered to livestock are excreted in dung, the opportunity for antibiotic resistance to develop on farms is worthy of investigation. Collecting animal waste within slurry tanks is also likely to concentrate the effects of antibiotic residues on the microbes inside the tank. When combined with the common practice of spraying fields with slurry as a fertiliser, the possible risk of antibiotic resistance being transferred through the soil environment is clear. This project aims to identify the extent to which antibiotic resistance is transferred to, and persists within, soil and crops following slurry application. Highlighting factors which influence the level of antibiotic resistance in this setting could ultimately help government and farmers reduce risk for everyone, whilst extending the future of existing antibiotics. The University of Nottingham Dairy Farm with around 250 head of cattle will act as model system for this study.