Researchers have recently identified phages transducing antibiotic resistance to bacteria in chicken meat, which means these bacteria pose a serious public health threat.
Bacteria gain antimicrobial resistant genes in different ways. In the case of chicken meat, phages transduced the resistance to E. coli bacteria. Most antibiotics cannot treat these infectious diseases because the specific pathogens have resistant genes, making these illnesses more difficult to treat.
Researchers took 50 chicken samples from supermarkets, butchers and street markets in Austria and isolated phages from them. Phages were found in 49 samples, but the phages themselves do not pose a threat to human health -- they only infect bacteria.
The scientists discovered that a quarter of the phages had the ability to transfer antimicrobial resistance to the E. coli bacteria that was studied within laboratory conditions.
"The most frequent way is the transfer via mobile genetic elements such as plasmids, or via transposons, the so-called jumping genes," Friederike Hilbert, scientist at the Institute of Meat Hygiene at the Vetmeduni Vienna, said. "Transfer of resistances via phages was thought to play a minor role so far.
"This mechanism could also be important in clinical settings, where multiresistant pathogens are on the rise,” Hilbert said. “We assume that phages acquire resistance genes from already resistant bacteria and then transfer those genes to other bacteria. Our results could explain why resistances spread so rapidly among bacteria."