22 Jun 2020

Ways to curb microbial resistance

Study analyze global trends in selection pressures for antibiotic and pesticide resistance and system connectivity, and how human cultures coevolve with human environments through coevolutionary dynamics

COVID-19 pandemics demonstrated the fragility of our present-day hyper-connected world. Simultaneously, pesticide and antibiotic resistance are persistent challenges that could seriously impede our food and health systems. Unsustainable food and health practices have been intensifying in an arms race with resistant bacteria, insects, and plants. This microbial resistance poses a serious threat to our food and health systems since it exposes weak links in the security of food, fuel, and fibre supply and endangers the lives of farmers and consumers. 

In a study published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, GEDB’s Deputy Executive Director Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Director Carl Folke, and Senior Academy Researcher Max Torell analyze global trends in selection pressures for antibiotic and pesticide resistance and system connectivity. Furthermore, the research emphasizes that human cultures coevolve with human environments through coevolutionary dynamics, which leads to increasing biocide resistance as a result of human-environment coevolution. 

Based on their coevolutionary governance analysis, they identify three priorities needed in food and health systems to reduce the dependence of biocides: 

•    Change in norms and perceptions: feedback and influence from peers and authorities can substantially reduce antibiotic prescribing and use. 

•    Diversify practices: with the focus often being on new technologies, there is a risk of forgetting successful practices of the past. For example, the origin of the important antimalarial drug artemisinin in Chinese traditional medicine demonstrates the value of historical uses for expanding current medicines' repertoire. 

•    Institutions to support collective action, trust, and governance: there is increasing evidence that trust, participation, coordination, and regulation are essential for effective resistance management. 

When it comes to more sustainable production and consumption, it means eating less but better animal protein and shifting to a business model that increases economic return per unit of crop or livestock produced. To address this problem, humanity will need to develop approaches that spread from individual farmers across national borders. For pesticide resistance, agricultural pest management must shift from individual, farm-by-farm approaches, to more cohesive and better-governed initiatives.

Søgaard Jørgensen, P., C. Folke, P. J. G. Henriksson, K. Malmros, M. Troell, and A. Zorzet. 2020. Coevolutionary Governance of Antibiotic and Pesticide Resistance. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 35(16): 484-494

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