Rolling Around in Cow Manure

Well, I’m not rolling around in cow manure…but my pipette is. For the past three weeks, I have been conducting microbiology research in  the Handelsman Lab at Yale University.  My project involves screening for antibiotic-resistance in dairy animals, specifically in cows. Current farming techniques have contributed a significant amount to increased resistance to antibiotics in dairy farm animals. Have you taken a good look at the chickens in the supermarket lately? They’re HUGE. Many farmers treat their animals with various antibiotics to foster their growth and/or to prevent their animals from illnesses. Sounds like a smart thing to do, right? The issue is that these microscopic gremlins called bacteria are some of the sneakiest and most dangerous creatures known to man. Let’s pretend antibiotics are the police force while bacteria are the “bad-guys”. When the police force first enters the area of the crime (the animal’s gut), they successfully kill the bad guys in the area. Unfortunately, there was no way for the police force to get ALL of the bad guys…that would just be unrealistic. So more bad-guys who were in hiding committed more crimes. Long story short, the more that the police force came to put a stop to these awful crimes, the more bad-guys wreaked havoc in the community. Theses antibiotics are effective at killing most of the bacteria that are causing illnesses in farm-animals, but eventually, the bacteria out-smart the antibiotics. But who cares? Good Question. Humans care. Most Americans on average consume farm-animals or farm-animal products. The bacteria that live in these animals invade the human population in various ways and affect the way that our immune system respond to these antibiotics when we need medical treatment. We hope to find a number of genes that are resistant to numerous antibiotics and learn more about the nature of these genes.

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