Plants Can Transmit Superbugs to the Human Gut That Can Hide For Years

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to human survival, today; and it looks like the threat may be more complicated than we had originally thought.  A new study out of the University of Southern California (USC) warns that some plant foods might be able to transmit this bacteria to the human body as we consume them. 

Essentially, the study discovered that some plant foods serve as vehicles for spreading antibiotic resistance to the microbiome of the human gut.  Using mice, the researchers observed that antibiotic resistance—sometimes called “superbugs”—can successfully hide within the intestines of those specimens who had been fed with lettuce that was contaminated with an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli. 

According to Marlene Maeusli, of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, “[The researchers] found differences in the ability of bacteria to silently colonize the gut after ingestion, depending on a variety of host and bacterial factors.”

Apparently both antibiotic and antacid treatments can affect the ability of superbugs “to survive the passage from the stomach to the intestines.” Unlike an outbreak of diarrhoeal illness that typically results in a quick onset of symptoms after eating, for example, contaminated vegetables, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that you consume in the same fashion can, indeed, hide within the intestines.  More importantly, they can hide for months—or even several years—before they will cause an illness (like a urinary infection, for example). 

As such, Maeusli goes on to say, “Our findings highlight the importance of tackling food-borne antibiotic-resistance from a complete food chain perspective that includes plant-foods in addition to meat.”

The study authors conclude “We continue to seek the plant characteristics and host factors that result in key microbial community shifts in the gut that put us at risk for colonization and those that prevent it.”

Obviously, this is quite an important study.  There are approximately two million cases of antibiotic-resistant infections reported every year, in the United States alone. Statistics from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that as much as 20 percent of these cases are connected with agriculture

The results of the study were discussed at a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.