Research – Antimicrobial resistance and interspecies gene transfer in Campylobacter coli and Campylobacter jejuni isolated from food animals, poultry processing, and retail meat in North Carolina, 2018–2019

PLOS One

CDC Campy

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies antimicrobial resistant (AMR) Campylobacter as a serious threat to U.S. public health due to high community burden, increased transmissibility, and limited treatability. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) plays an important role in surveillance of AMR bacterial pathogens in humans, food animals and retail meats. This study investigated Ccoli and Cjejuni from live food animals, poultry carcasses at production, and retail meat in North Carolina between January 2018-December 2019. Whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics were used for phenotypic and genotypic characterization to compare AMR profiles, virulence factors associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) (neuABC and cst-II or cst-III), and phylogenic linkage between 541 Campylobacter isolates (Ccoli n = 343, Cjejuni n = 198). Overall, 90.4% (489/541) Campylobacter isolates tested positive for AMR genes, while 43% (233/541) carried resistance genes for three or more antibiotic classes and were classified molecularly multidrug resistant. AMR gene frequencies were highest against tetracyclines (64.3%), beta-lactams (63.6%), aminoglycosides (38.6%), macrolides (34.8%), quinolones (24.4%), lincosamides (13.5%), and streptothricins (5%). A total of 57.6% (114/198) Cjejuni carried GBS virulence factors, while three Ccoli carried the Cjejuni-like lipooligosaccharide locus, neuABC and cst-II. Further evidence of Ccoli and Cjejuni interspecies genomic exchange was observed in identical multilocus sequence typing, shared sequence type (ST) 7818 clonal complex 828, and identical species-indicator genes mapAceuE, and hipO. There was a significant increase in novel STs from 2018 to 2019 (2 in 2018 and 21 in 2019, p<0.002), illustrating variable Campylobacter genomes within food animal production. Introgression between Ccoli and Cjejuni may aid pathogen adaption, lead to higher AMR and increase Campylobacter persistence in food processing. Future studies should further characterize interspecies gene transfer and evolutionary trends in food animal production to track evolving risks to public health.

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