Press Release

Antibiotics in manure a far-reaching impact on abundance of human pathogenic bacteria in soils

Neuherberg, April 04, 2014. Scientists of Helmholtz Zentrum München, in a joint study with researchers of Julius Kühn Institute in Braunschweig, have found that the repeated application of manure contaminated with antibiotics lastingly changes the composition of bacteria in the soil. The focus of the investigation was on sulfadiazine (SDZ), a widely used antibiotic in animal husbandry which enters the soil via manure. In the latest issue of the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers report that repeated application of the antibiotic leads to a decrease in beneficial soil bacteria and at the same time an increase in bacteria that are harmful to humans.

Prof. Dr. Michael Schloter | Source: Helmholtz Zentrum München

Since antibiotics are commonly used in animal husbandry, the implications for agricultural areas that are fertilized with the manure of these animals are of great interest. The study results confirmed the scientists’ hypothesis that the application of antibiotics has an effect on the composition of soil bacteria. “After repeated application of manure contaminated with antibiotics, we found a decrease in the bacteria that are important for good soil quality. This means a loss of soil fertility and thus in the long run a decline in crop yields,” said Professor Michael Schloter, head of Research Unit Environmental Genomics at Helmholtz Zentrum München. “Moreover, the number of microbes living in the soil that are harmful to humans increased under the experimental conditions of the study.”

Wide-reaching consequences for human health

“The increase in human pathogenic microorganisms in the environment has wide-reaching consequences for human health,” says Professor Schloter. “We are in continous contact with these microorganisms, and the probability of contracting an infection increases accordingly. This applies particularly to diseases of the respiratory system and the lungs, as bacteria are spread through the air and inhaled. Moreover, many of the bacteria are resistant to commonly used antibiotics, which often makes treatment more difficult. We must therefore urgently develop a new mindset as regards the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry.” 

Further information

Climate change: How do soils store CO2? [in German]

Sulfadiazine (SDZ) belongs to the group of antibiotics called sulfonamides. It is used mainly in veterinary medicine. Its effect is based on the inhibition of the folic acid synthesis of bacteria. Since resistance to sulfadiazine is built up quickly, it is mostly used in combination with other antibiotics. SZD is water soluble.

Ding, G-C. et al. (2014), Dynamics of soil bacterial communities in response to repeated application of manure containing sulfadiazine, PLOS ONE, 9(3): e92958, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092958.

Link to original publication

 Helmholtz Zentrum München the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medicine, i.e. a customized approach to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of widespread diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung disease. To that end, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. It has about 2,200 staff members and is a member of the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest scientific organization, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with some 34,000 staff members. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is a partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research.

The independent research unit Environmental Genomics (EGEN) examines the structure and function of soil microbial communities and identifies abiotic and biotic parameters that regulate the abundance, diversity and activity of the respective microbiomes. The aim is to make better use of the genetic resources of soil microflora in order to build a sustainable bioeconomy. EGEN is part of the Department of Environmental Sciences.

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Michael Schloter, Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt (GmbH), Ingolstaedter Landstr. 1, D-85764 Neuherberg - Tel. +49 89 3187-3543,