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Title: Horizontal Gene Transfer Is the Main Driver of Antimicrobial Resistance in Broiler Chicks Infected with Salmonella enterica Serovar Heidelberg
ABSTRACT The overuse and misuse of antibiotics in clinical settings and in food production have been linked to the increased prevalence and spread of antimicrobial resistance (AR). Consequently, public health and consumer concerns have resulted in a remarkable reduction in antibiotics used for food animal production. However, there are no data on the effectiveness of antibiotic removal in reducing AR shared through horizontal gene transfer (HGT). In this study, we used neonatal broiler chicks and Salmonella enterica serovar Heidelberg, a model food pathogen, to test if chicks raised antibiotic free harbor transferable AR. We challenged chicks with an antibiotic-susceptible S . Heidelberg strain using various routes of inoculation and determined if S . Heidelberg isolates recovered carried plasmids conferring AR. We used antimicrobial susceptibility testing and whole-genome sequencing (WGS) to show that chicks grown without antibiotics harbored an antimicrobial resistant S . Heidelberg population at 14 days after challenge and chicks challenged orally acquired AR at a higher rate than chicks inoculated via the cloaca. Using 16S rRNA gene sequencing, we found that S . Heidelberg infection perturbed the microbiota of broiler chicks, and we used metagenomics and WGS to confirm that a commensal Escherichia coli population was the main reservoir of an IncI1 plasmid acquired by S . Heidelberg. The carriage of this IncI1 plasmid posed no fitness cost to S . Heidelberg but increased its fitness when exposed to acidic pH in vitro . These results suggest that HGT of plasmids carrying AR shaped the evolution of S . Heidelberg and that antibiotic use reduction alone is insufficient to limit antibiotic resistance transfer from commensal bacteria to Salmonella enterica . IMPORTANCE The reported increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans has resulted in a major shift away from antibiotic use in food animal production. This shift has been driven by the assumption that removing antibiotics will select for antibiotic susceptible bacterial taxa, which in turn will allow the currently available antibiotic arsenal to be more effective. This change in practice has highlighted new questions that need to be answered to assess the effectiveness of antibiotic removal in reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance bacteria. This research demonstrates that antibiotic-susceptible Salmonella enterica serovar Heidelberg strains can acquire multidrug resistance from commensal bacteria present in the gut of neonatal broiler chicks, even in the absence of antibiotic selection. We demonstrate that exposure to acidic pH drove the horizontal transfer of antimicrobial resistance plasmids and suggest that simply removing antibiotics from food animal production might not be sufficient to limit the spread of antimicrobial resistance.  more » « less
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Garrido, Daniel
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National Science Foundation
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