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Stamping out superbugs

News

Published: 4Oct2021

During the last year and a half, the world’s attention has been focused squarely on SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. While deadly, this virus is only one of many pathogens that threaten our well-being. For many years, scientists have been warning about another microscopic menace: drug-resistant microbes.

Dr. Paul Thomassin, BSc(Agr)’78, a professor of Agricultural Economics and former director of the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics explains how antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, poses a serious threat to health systems and economies around the globe. “Unless we deal with this issue, by 2050, we’re going to have a big problem, not only in terms of the number of people who die, which is obviously a major social concern, but also in terms of the economic impact," he says.

Unlike in medicine, where antibiotics are used solely to treat infection, in agriculture, they are also used much more broadly to improve production. “If you look at some countries like Canada, approximately 60 to 70% of our antibiotic use is in agriculture,” Thomassin says. However, changing such practices will come at a cost, so it's important to know exactly how much AMR is coming from the food production system, he adds. “There are a variety of different places where you can make interventions.”

Broadly speaking, however, the “solutions are the same in agriculture and in medicine,” says Dr. Jennifer Ronholm, an assistant professor in McGill’s Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “We need to rethink our use: in medicine, people can’t use antibiotics for infections they don’t need them for, and us agricultural people should probably be trying to refrain from using antibiotics unless we really have to—if agriculture could get rid of the growth promotion and the prophylaxis, that would be a big step towards limiting them.”

One of the ways to solve this issue will be to find novel ways of dealing with pathogens. Ronholm, for example, is working on modifying the body’s resident microbes, which are collectively known as the microbiome, to prevent infection. Her team is currently investigating the differences in the microbiome of healthy and sick cows to identify probiotics that help ward off infection.

The above is an excerpt from the the article Stamping Out Superbugs, published by Focus on Medicine - Read the full article.

 

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