Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon as organisms respond to various pressures in their environment. However, a worldwide acceleration of resistance in microorganisms has reached an alarming pace. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. is heading towards a “post antibiotic era.” The use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs has been linked to accelerating the emergence of drug-resistant strains of microbes. Globally, antibiotics are used significantly in both human medicine and agriculture.

As defined by the World Health Organization Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is "resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial drug that was originally effective for treatment of infections caused by it. Resistant microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial drugs, such as antibacterial drugs (e.g., antibiotics), antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist, increasing the risk of spread to others." 

NIFA’s AMR focus addresses studying the role of agriculture in antimicrobial resistance, reducing potential negative impacts from the use of antibiotics, and identifying alternative strategies for mitigating AMR in the food chain. The goal is to reduce or negate any potential negatively adverse impact of antimicrobials used in agriculture that may have potentially adverse effects on the treatment of human diseases.

In agriculture, antimicrobial agents are used sub-therapeutically to maintain animal health and well-being, and therapeutically to treat diseases. Perhaps the most well-known of the antimicrobial agents are bacterial antibiotics which are used to treat diseases caused by bacteria. Antimicrobial resistance is a major concern in the food chain because resistant organisms have been identified at every level, from primary producers, including the role of environmental factors, to primary consumers. 

The extent to which the use of antimicrobial agents in agriculture contributes to the emergence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens, particularly those that cause infections in humans, is unknown. Antimicrobials are used in agriculture, but the amount sold versus the amount used in the United States is unclear. NIFA is dedicating funds to holistically investigate AMR using a systems approach that transcends disciplines in the food and agricultural sciences. In order to reduce redundancy and enhance effective and efficient use of limited resources, NIFA strongly encourages private-public partnerships and national and international collaborations to advance the outcomes and impacts of AMR funded projects.

Antimicrobial resistance-related projects are currently funded through the Agricultural Food and Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational Program (Animal Health; Food Safety) and the Food Safety Challenge Area. Since FY 2012, seven research projects and three conference grants have been funded through the AFRI’s “Effective Strategies for Mitigating Antimicrobial Resistance” program. In addition to AFRI, funding, NIFA has also funded both competitive and non-competitive projects on antimicrobial resistance through Hatch and Evan’s Allen programs, the National Research Initiative's (NRI) program and the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative Competitive Grants Program to improve our understanding of AMR.

NIFA has significant representation on several national AMR initiatives through the Office of the Under Secretary, funding numerous projects through the AMR program. These include the USDA AMR Interagency Working Group that produced the USDA AMR Action Plan, Combating Antimicrobial Resistant Bacteria (CARB), and ICARB (International CARB). NIFA funds, co-funds and participates in other antimicrobial resistance-related activities including the University of Arizona’s 2015 Symposium workshop, and the American Society of Microbiology’s (ASM) 2015 4th ASM Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance in Zoonotic Bacteria and Foodborne Pathogens. Scientists awarded antimicrobial resistance funds have appeared in the media, including the popular Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Frontline video series “The Trouble with Antibiotics ,” in 2014.