August 2016

Research and Development

Collaborative Initiative Aims to Understand Transfer of Antimicrobial Resistance


Top: Dr. Tim McAllister

Bottom: Dr. Sylvia Checkley

Within bacteria, there are pieces of genetic information called integrative conjugative elements (ICEs) that can transfer from one bacteria to another. These ICE transfers allow the new bacteria to acquire genetic information and traits the ICE codes for. This can include antimicrobial resistance (AMR), as bacteria can acquire resistance to multiple antibiotics through a single transfer of the ICEs from their bacterial counterparts. However, the origin of ICEs and their relationship to AMR are largely unknown.

“While AMR is a growing concern because of its potential impact on animal and human health, the solution is not as simple as eliminating antibiotic use in livestock,” said Dr. Tim McAllister, Principal Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “Fortunately, recent research is starting to provide consumers and industry with more information regarding AMR, and we believe understanding how ICEs work in acquisition of AMR in bacteria could provide insight into how to help control AMR in the livestock industry.”

Dr. McAllister and University of Calgary Assistant Professor, Dr. Sylvia Checkley, currently lead a research team investigating the role of ICEs in AMR acquisition and transfer in bacteria found in the beef and poultry supply chains. This initiative receives assistance from partnerships with the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA).

“The insight gathered through this initiative will support the development of antimicrobial stewardship practices that ensure responsible antibiotic use,” said Dr. Susan Novak, ALMA’s Executive Director of Strategic Initiatives. “That should help industry increase consumer confidence in Alberta meat products.”

This project will use DNA and bacterial samples from the BCRC’s AMR Beef Cluster and the Alberta FoodNet Canada site. These samples are collected from local feedlots, broiler chicken farms and retail meat samples. Human isolates will also be studied to evaluate genetic linkage between ICEs from livestock and human origin.

Together, the samples help the team study AMR for bacteria that have relevance to human and animal health, such as E. coli, Salmonella, Enterococcus and Campylobacter. Additionally, the team plans to build an understanding of how antibiotics affect ICE-associated AMR and use related studies from both networks to identify AMR genes that are in ICEs.

“With more knowledge about ICEs and AMR, industry can effectively supply the consumer and market demand without increasing the burden on the value chain,” said Dr. Checkley, who is also a member of the Alberta FoodNet Canada site steering committee. “That will support industry in growing its long-term sustainability and profitability.”

For more information, please contact Dr. Tim McAllister or Dr. Sylvia Checkley directly.