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Wednesday, 29 May 2013 00:00

Scientists explain the mechanisms that underlie the resistance to antibiotics of foodborne bacteria

Why harmful bacteria present in foods become resistant to antibiotics and other substances to destroy them? The Research Group of Food and Environment Microbiology of the University of Jaén studies the genetic mechanisms used by these organisms to avoid the effect of compounds aiming at eliminating them.

In a study published in the journal Food Control under the title 'Isolation and identification of bacteria from organic foods: Sensitivity to biocides and antibiotics', experts focused on organic food. They have chosen fruits and vegetables, legumes, pasta and processed foods such as tofu burgers. All organically certified since, by definition, their production process make them to be preserved from synthetic chemicals. "This feature prevents them to be in contact with antibiotics or biocides - substances that counteract the effects of any organisms considered harmful to humans - so that organic foods are 'virgins' and more sensitive to the products we will add”, explains to Fundación Descubre Antonio Gálvez, a ceiA3 researcher at the University of Jaén and director of the excellence project “Incidence of resistance to biocide in bacteria along the food chain”, funded by the Ministry of Economy, Innovation, Science and Employment of the Andalusian Government.

First, researchers isolated bacteria and analyzed the number and type. "We verified that they posed no food safety issues, as they were not present in high levels, nor were especially pathogenic," explains the researcher. However, analysis showed conclusions on the question posed by experts: Why such bacteria are resistant to the treatments if they have not been in contact with biocides or antibiotics? The key seems to be in the genes. The researchers selected the most resistant strains and analyzed the mechanisms of this resistance using genetic methods identifying the genes that cause them. This way, they found that some bacteria carry that resistance in their genes or have acquired it from other bacteria by gene exchange mechanisms. Indeed, one of these mechanisms found more frequently in bacteria are those known as export pumps. These expel to the bacterial outer a great variety of molecules to eliminate harmful compounds, among which there are included both biocides and antibiotics. This expulsion is not specific, but allows eliminating a variety of compounds. Those considered by them to be dangerous.

"A bacterium which is in contact with a biocide may, in addition to expel it, develop mechanisms to expel antibiotics too. This allows the organism to have cross-resistance to biocides and antibiotics", he explains.

With these results, researchers at the University of Jaén warn of the importance of respecting the dosage and duration of treatments with biocides in the food industry as well as the recommendation to undertake rotations to prevent bacteria from adapting to and avoid them. "Our studies seek to deeply understand the mechanisms responsible for this resistance at a molecular level, in order to avoid bad practices in the use of these antimicrobials", he adds.

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