Airline poop studied to track global spread of AMR in bacterial pathogens

plane poopGlobally, infectious diseases are the cause of about 22% of all human deaths, according to a 2010 report, a number that seems likely to rise based on increasing population density, increasing use of antimicrobial agents, disruption of wildlife habitats, and an increase in global travel and trade this number seems likely to increase. Global spread of antimicrobial resistance in bacterial pathogens is another major threat against human health, yet we don’t know much about how these genes travel and spread worldwide.

In an effort to learn more about this, researchers at Technical University of Denmark studied the poop siphoned from airplane toilets from flights arriving from around the world. From the study’s abstract: Human populations worldwide are increasingly confronted with infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance spreading faster and appearing more frequently. Knowledge regarding their occurrence and worldwide transmission is important to control outbreaks and prevent epidemics. Here, we performed shotgun sequencing of toilet waste from 18 international airplanes arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, from nine cities in three world regions. An average of 18.6 Gb (14.8 to 25.7 Gb) of raw Illumina paired end sequence data was generated, cleaned, trimmed and mapped against reference sequence databases for bacteria and antimicrobial resistance genes. An average of 106,839 (0.06%) reads were assigned to resistance genes with genes encoding resistance to tetracycline, macrolide and beta-lactam resistance genes as the most abundant in all samples. We found significantly higher abundance and diversity of genes encoding antimicrobial resistance, including critical important resistance (e.g. blaCTX-M) carried on airplanes from South Asia compared to North America. Presence of Salmonella enterica and norovirus were also detected in higher amounts from South Asia, whereas Clostridium difficile was most abundant in samples from North America. Our study provides a first step toward a potential novel strategy for global surveillance enabling simultaneous detection of multiple human health threatening genetic elements, infectious agents and resistance genes.

Read more about the findings here: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep11444

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