Antimicrobial resistance and its association with tolerance to heavy metals in agriculture production

Zhongyi Yu, Lynda Gunn, Patrick Wall, Séamus Fanning*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


Antimicrobial resistance is a recognized public health challenge that since its emergence limits the therapeutic options available to veterinarians and clinicians alike, when treatment is warranted. This development is further compounded by the paucity of new antibiotics. The agri-food industry benefits from the availability of antimicrobial compounds for food-animal production and crop protection. Nonetheless, their improper use can result in the selection for bacteria that are phenotypically resistant to these compounds. Another class of agents used in agriculture includes various cationic metals that can be included in animal diets as nutritional supplements or spread on pastures to support crop growth and protection. Heavy metals, in particular, are giving rise to concerns among public health professionals, as they can persist in the environment remaining stable for prolonged periods. Moreover, bacteria can also exhibit resistance to these chemical elements and the genes encoding this phenotype can be physically localized to plasmids that may also contain one or more antimicrobial resistance-encoding gene(s). This paper reviews our current understanding of the role that bacteria play in expressing resistance to heavy metals. It will describe how heavy metals are used in agri-food production, and explore evidence available to link resistance to heavy metals and antimicrobial compounds. In addition, possible solutions to reduce the impact of heavy metal resistance are also discussed, including using organic minerals and reducing the level of trace minerals in animal feed rations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages10
JournalFood Microbiology
Early online date22 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Co-selection
  • Metal tolerance
  • Organic minerals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Microbiology


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