Antimicrobial Resistance and One Health Focused Meeting 2017

At the end of August, Microbiology Society staff and members attended the Antimicrobial Resistance and One Health Focused Meeting at Maynooth University, Ireland. In our latest blog post, Policy Officer Roya Ziaie lays out some of the topics that were discussed at the event.

With antimicrobial resistance (AMR) becoming a major public health concern, collaboration is vital to fill gaps in knowledge between sectors. Responding to this need, the Antimicrobial Resistance and One Health meeting focused on environmental, animal, human and policy aspects of AMR in order to better understand how these sectors are independent yet interconnected.

Organised by the Society’s Irish Division, the meeting was opened by Fiona Walsh of Maynooth University. Throughout the two-day event, delegates were treated to talks and round table discussions showcasing work being done to overcome challenges in AMR, and flash poster presentations designed to facilitate international conversation.

Animals and Antimicrobials

Kicking off the first day, Finola Leonard (University College Dublin) and Nicola Williams (University of Liverpool) discussed antibiotic resistance in farm and companion animals, with Nicola highlighting concerns from the veterinary profession regarding their reliance on antimicrobials to control infectious disease. Following this, Rosemarie Slowey (Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Ireland) presented significant findings from a recent report on antimicrobial surveillance of AMR in the EU, including the first time detection of resistance to carbapenem antibiotics – often the last resort option for patients with multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. You can read the full report here.

A Hidden Threat: Resistance in the Environment

Celia Manaia, from Universidade Catόlica Portuguesa, Portugal, brought to delegates’ attention the ways in which environmental wastewater can enhance the propagation of antibiotic resistant bacteria and genes. Kornelia Smalla, from the Julius Kuhn-Institut in Germany, discussed how residual antibiotics in the environment can apply selective pressure to bacteria, leading to gene transfer and, consequently, resistance. This is of particular concern where resistance has been observed passing from fertiliser in soil to human gut microbiomes through the food chain.

Closing the day, Jo Handelsman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) presented her work investigating the origins of antibiotic resistance using metagenomics, studying genetic information from environmental samples. These studies revealed more diverse origins of resistance than initially anticipated, warranting further investigation and further emphasising the complexity of the issue at hand.

Human Health and the Antibiotic Problem

The event’s second day was kick-started with some insightful discussions into antibiotics and human medicine. Fidelma Fitzpatrick, from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, gave a comprehensive overview of antibiotic resistance, antibiotic consumption and healthcare-associated infection rates – with 10 million deaths predicted annually as a result of AMR by 2050.

Fidelma’s colleague, Hilary Humphries, discussed the impact of carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae (CPE). CPE infections are a particular cause for concern since they often lead to bloodstream infections in hospitals and have few treatment options. Following this theme, James O’Gara from the National University of Ireland Galway spoke about improving treatment options for meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) using different combinations of antibiotics. Annually, MRSA infections affect over 150,000 people in the EU, with treatment costs exceeding €380 million.

Policy and AMR

The closing sessions saw delegates take part in interactive, policy-based discussions, enlightening many on an entirely different perspective to antimicrobial research. Eva Reinhard from the Federal Office for Agriculture in Switzerland presented the Swiss National Strategy for Antibiotic Resistance (StAR), which closely follows a One Health approach and aims to maintain long-term efficacy of antibiotics. Delegates then split into groups to discuss how policy affects their research, highlighting the barriers, needs and successes of translating science in AMR into policy or using policy to drive research.

The question on the lips of many was how to better facilitate conversations between governments and frontline researchers, to allow for improved access to funding, better directed research and ultimately enhanced science policy to bridge the gap between strategy and implementation. Responding to this discussion, the Microbiology Society will be hosting a policy-themed workshop at our next Microbiology Society Annual Conference, taking place in Birmingham, UK – we hope to see you there!

Roya Ziaie

The Microbiology Society recently produced a briefing paper on antimicrobial resistance, describing its causes and the key policy solutions needed to tackle it. This can be downloaded from our website.

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Protecting penguins from avian malaria

In 2016, a colony of penguins living in Exmoor Zoo in the UK suddenly died after an outbreak of avian malaria, a parasitic disease spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes. Sadly, this isn’t the only time that avian malaria has struck, and several other zoos in the UK have lost animals to the disease.

Avian malaria is mainly caused by the parasite Plasmodium relictum, which reproduces in red blood cells. While the disease appears to be harmless in many bird species, in can cause lethal anaemia in others.

Penguins seem particularly vulnerable to avian malaria, likely because the climate they live in are not home to mosquitoes, and so the birds have not been exposed to the disease before.

The University of Nottingham and Twycross Zoo have teamed up on a research project to learn more about how to protect birds from avian malaria. In our new video, you can see Isabella Hannay, a veterinary student from the University of Nottingham, and the zoo’s Mátyás Liptovszky describe the project and its importance.

Isabella spent the summer at the zoo on a Harry Smith Vacation Studentship, which gives undergraduates the opportunity to work on a microbiological research project during their summer vacation. You can find out more about the award here.

Benjamin Thompson

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Podcast: Microbiome Research – Opportunity or Over-hype?

This month, we’re bringing you a real highlight from our Annual Conference in Edinburgh: a live discussion about the state of microbiome research.

A panel of experts gave their views on whether microbiome research is an opportunity, or whether it’s been over-hyped.

It was a really lively event with a great audience, and it was chaired by our very own Dr Benjamin Thompson.

Prof Julian Marchesi, Imperial College London
Prof Jim Prosser, University of Aberdeen
Dr Lindsay Hall, University of East Anglia
Dr Thorunn Helgason, University of York

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New microbes found in a rhino, bird crops and mobile phone screens


Scientists have identified a new species of bacterium from a rhinoceros. The team isolated the strain from the genital tract of Sani the rhinoceros during a routine microbiological test. They name it Arcanobacterium wilhelmae after Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart, where it was found.

Meanwhile, researchers in a wild animal park in China have discovered a novel actinobacterium in the faeces of a golden snub-nosed monkey. The species, Mobilicoccus caccae becomes only the second member of its genus, joining Mobilicoccus pelagius, which was originally isolated from the intestinal tract of a fish.

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Spotlight on Grants: Applied Microbiology in Uganda

Every year, the Microbiology Society awards grants from its International Development Fund to support members’ activities in countries where microbiology teaching or diagnostics require development. Dr Kostas Gkatzionis writes about his trip to Uganda earlier this year to run activities on applied microbiology for students at Kyambogo University.

Food microbiology is essential to build capacity in Uganda for food safety and quality testing, as well as increasing Uganda’s chances of full participation in international food trade. This is why in January 2017, together with Dr Ediriisa, I organised three weeks of activities on applied microbiology at Kyambogo University, with a focus on techniques for characterising bacterial flora in fermented foods.

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Why don’t archaea cause disease?

Are there really no archaeal pathogens? And if not, why not?

Dr James Chong explores these questions in a film and article for Microbiology Today.
Read the full comment piece here.

For a microbe, pathogenesis is a fundamentally bad idea. From an anthropomorphic point of view, why would you kill the host that is providing you with food and board at no cost? Is this not a poorly thought-through error of judgement? Surely a much better approach to propagation of one’s progeny is to hide in a corner and hope you’re not noticed? By minimising the burden on your host – or, better yet, offering them some service – they are more likely to tolerate, or even encourage, your presence. Continue reading

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What is the Nagoya Protocol? How does it relate to microbiology?

Microbiology is an interconnected discipline, with researchers all over the world sharing samples and genetic data at an ever increasing pace. But how can we ensure that everyone can also benefit from any discoveries made? In this post, Katie Beckett from the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) tells us about the Nagoya Protocol, which aims to ensure that research benefits are shared in an equitable way.

Throughout human history, micro-organisms have played a critical role in the development of human society. From brewing beer to the Black Death, their impact has been significant, and microbiologists such as van Leeuwenhoek and Fleming have earned their place in history. Today, microbiology is a fundamental discipline in driving forward innovative research and new product development, such as producing new antibiotics to combat increasing drug resistance or studies into the effects of microbial communities on carbon and nitrogen cycles and resulting impacts on climate change. Microbiology is applied across a whole host of sectors and research areas with the micro-organisms themselves often being sourced from specialist collections around the world. In the first instance however, these genetic resources come from nature, existing in every part of the global biosphere – from the soil, atmosphere, and ocean, to hot springs and rock formations.

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