A Cal Poly Pomona nutrition and food science professor will receive $200,000 in federal grant funding to research antibiotic resistance bacteria in fresh produce.
Assistant Professor Xu (Victor) Yang said fresh produce – especially leafy vegetables – is often eaten raw or after minimal processing, unlike meat and poultry products.
“That may increase consumers’ exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Yang said. “Fresh vegetables that contain those bacteria could serve as a reservoir for the antibiotic-resistant genes and pass them on to pathogens in humans.”
Bacteria can develop antibiotic resistance by producing enzymes called extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs) that break down and destroy the antibiotics. ESBL-producing germs can be easily found in the environment.
Currently, there’s limited research into antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the fresh produce supply chains in the United States. But Yang says his team’s preliminary research shows that between 4.5 percent and 10 percent of vegetables tested positive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“This project will fill the research gap by identifying the genes involved in antibiotic resistance, assessing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in the fresh vegetable supply chains from farm to fork in the United States and determining the critical transmission factors,” he said.
Yang and his team will collect and process samples of vegetables from retail stores and from a farm to screen them for antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains. The project will include extracting DNA from bacteria for sequencing.
Yang’s work is part of a larger, joint research project led by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The project – and Yang’s work – is funded through a $1 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.