23 November 2023

Analysis of soil microbes is a major tool against antibiotic resistance

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A study of soil microbes gets started in Ireland. The metagenomic survey, by the VistaMilk research center, aims to identify microorganisms that benefit the soil

by Matteo Cavallito

Identifying the genetic characteristics of microbes to prevent disease and improve food safety. That is the goal of scientists at VistaMilk, a research center funded by the Republic of Ireland‘s Department of Agriculture. The investigation involves pasture soil samples.

A census of soil microbes

Using metagenomics, a technique that allows all the smallest forms of life in the soil to be studied simultaneously, the Agriland website says, researchers want to discover how the genetic characteristics of microbes interact with the environment, transport nutrients and help plants grow.

The project, Agriland writes, “will then use terabytes of computer processing power to bring all the data together, with the goal of developing an analysis system that can identify microbes that provide benefits in any soil sample.” Soil, the researchers remind us, is home to microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, archaea, protozoa and viruses that perform specific and highly important tasks.

Identifying antibiotic resistance

One of the objects of research is the topic of antibiotic resistance. In the soil microbiome, scientists note, microbes have developed the ability to resist antibiotics and other drugs. This phenomenon is fostered by human activity and can be transmitted to the soil and food chain. With obvious health consequences.

“The ability to address AMR would prevent large numbers of avoidable deaths and would save billions in medical care costs,” said Rose Edwin, one of the researchers involved in the project, quoted by the TechCentral portal. “A report by the World Bank Group notes that a high-case AMR scenario may cause low-income countries to lose more than 5% of GDP and force more than 28 million people into poverty by 2050.”

Agriculture, breeding, and resistance

The spatial distribution of antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) in the Planet’s soils and the factors influencing their geographical presence are still unclear. Late last year, in a study published in the journal Science Advances. a team of researchers from the School of Geographic Sciences at East China Normal University in Shanghai drew up the first map of the distribution of this phenomenon, which has been recognized in recent decades as a serious threat.

The authors, in particular, found that the presence of ARG was significantly higher in agricultural soils when compared with soils not subjected to crop or livestock farming.

The metagenomic investigation, conducted by sequencing 1,088 soil samples, revealed the presence of 558 different resistant genes. Their highest concentration is found in the eastern part of the United States, Western Europe, South Asia and East Asia. But also in some areas, such as northern Europe and New Zealand, located at relatively high latitudes.