NZ study first in world to find common herbicides cause antibiotic resistance

Source: 1News

The active ingredients in a list of commonly used herbicides, including Roundup used by most New Zealand local governments for weed control, has been shown to cause antibiotic resistance, a world-first Kiwi study has found.

A group of scientists say taking antibiotics longer than necessary is adding to the problem of superbugs.

New University of Canterbury research has confirmed the active ingredients in RoundUp, Kamba and 2,4-D (glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D, respectively) can cause bacteria to alter how susceptible they are to antibiotics.

University of Canterbury molecular biology and genetics Professor Jack Heinemann said the herbicides studied are three of the most commonly used in the world, including New Zealand.

"They are among the most common manufactured chemical products to which people, pets and livestock in both rural and urban environments are exposed," Professor Heinemann said.

"These products are sold in the local hardware store and may be used without training, and there are no controls that prevent children and pets from being exposed in home gardens or parks.

"Despite their ubiquitous use, this University of Canterbury research is the first in the world to demonstrate that herbicides may be undermining the use of a fundamental medicine-antibiotics."

The new paper led by University of Canterbury researchers also found ingredients that are regularly used in some herbicide formulations, and processed foods, also cause antibiotic resistance.

"More emphasis needs to be placed on antibiotic stewardship compared to new antibiotic discovery. Otherwise, new drugs will fail rapidly and be lost to humanity," Professor Heinemann said. 

Professor Heinemann says antibiotic resistance has caused nearly a million additional deaths worldwide from infectious diseases.

"The United States, for example, estimates that more than two million people are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections, with at least 23,000 dying as a result.

"By 2050, resistance is estimated to add 10 million annual deaths globally with a cumulative cost to the world economy of US$100 trillion. In other words, roughly twice the population of New Zealand will be lost annually to antibiotic resistance."