Researchers study how human food scraps contribute to disease in ecosystems | VTX

They teamed up to explore the role of water in the transmission of bacteria responsible for diarrheal disease. Botswana differs from the United States in access to health care, particularly with access to over-the-counter antibiotics in significant parts of the country due to more limited access to doctors. If someone has a stomach ache, they can go to a pharmacy and take an antibiotic. This may, however, increase antibiotic resistance in the population.

“We hypothesized antibiotic resistance E.coli would be much more prevalent in the urban environment, and that appears to be true,” Ponder said. “In the United States, we believe that antibiotic resistance spreads through the clinical use of antibiotics to treat disease, but also through antibiotics used in the production of food animals. The Kasane study area in Botswana does not have large-scale food animal production, so collecting data on antibiotic resistance in these two vastly different environments has been extremely valuable.

Recently, they turned their attention to the role of food and food waste, as Ponder is a food microbiologist, in the spread of an understudied diarrheal disease agent, Campylobacterassociated with approximately one million infections in the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.

Campylobacter may also be a major cause of diarrheal disease in Botswana, and recent collaborations from Alexander and Ponder Laboratories have shown that wildlife may also harbor Campylobacter. Wildlife often venture into landfills and search for food, rummaging through trash before returning to the wild.

“We saw the Marabou stork in Botswana rubbish dumps and watched them stock up on rubbish before flying off to nearby national parks where they could spread human-associated bacteria to other animals in the park. “, said Ponder.

Another of the animals observed by Ponder and Alexander were baboons. These animals ate the rinds of different fruits for a short while before dropping them and moving on. Only patience was needed to pick up the remains.

“We test discarded food waste for both pathogenic bacteria but also for antibiotic resistance profiles. We collected poop from the baboons that are in this facility to see if they were exposed to human-associated bacteria and analyze their gut microbial ecology,” Ponder said.

The pair fought with dung beetles to collect poo samples – quickly snagging the coveted droppings before the beetles could land on it and begin their slow march.

“So far, we have been able to isolate several different potentially pathogenic bacteria from food scraps and also from animal feces within the system. It’s not surprising. We find that food can also spread diarrheal disease in the United States,” Ponder said.

The same approach could be used to track and compare other bacteria in ecosystems to potentially determine if they came from the same sources, Ponder said.