Teenager Discovers Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria In Chicken

A 17-year-old student in New Zealand has discovered antibiotic resistant bacteria that could be difficult to treat in humans… in a bunch of grocery store chickens.

The key finding was that the bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics not used in the poultry industry but important for treating serious infections in humans.

Scientists are calling for further investigation and the discovery is about to be published in the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science’s journal.

Millar’s chicken experiment began as part of an International Baccalaurette Diploma during her Year 13 last year.

She bought six fresh chickens – free-range, barn-raised and organic – from a Christchurch supermarket. She took samples from each bird and grew bug colonies, which she used to test different antibiotics.

The bacteria in two chickens proved to be resistant not only to antibiotics used in the poultry industry, but to antibiotics used to treat infections in humans. Ick.

Student exposes bugs in chicken [Stuff via Fark]


Edit Your Comment

  1. MickeyMoo says:

    So much for the “organic” is better for you argument…

  2. Cwolf267 says:

    The bacteria is still not heat resistant, right?

  3. blitzcat says:

    @CWOLF267 So you will cook a human if they get sick?

  4. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    @blitzcat: Methinks his point was, so long as you properly cook your chicken, you won’t get sick at all, right?

  5. Cwolf267 says:

    @blitzcat: Don’t judge

  6. autumnmist says:

    @mickeymoo: The article doesn’t say which two chickens tested positive. It may, but it may not have been the organic chickens. And even if it was, it doesn’t say anything about organic in general. For all we know the chickens could have been claimed to be organic but the farm might be cheating behind the scenes.

  7. Aladdyn says:

    Its just a matter of time before we go back to not being able to cure basic diseases. There is no way humans can beat bacteria’s rate of evolution. Id say its 50-50 for us destroying earth first or earth destroying us before we finish the job

  8. Aladdyn says:

    I should say “Earth as we know it” when we manage to wipe ourselves out im sure something else will take over

  9. Cwolf267 says:

    @Aladdyn: Who’s to say we aren’t gigantic bacteria?

    Whoa… deep

  10. KJones says:

    Which is the scariest fact:



    (a) There is a drug-resistant bacteria.

    (b) A teenager discovered the bacteria, not the government.

    (c) The NZ government knew about it but didn’t tell the public.

    (d) The NZ government didn’t have a clue.

  11. darkclawsofchaos says:

    hmm… the best solution is probablyto intelligently design virus that will attack harmful bacteria and nothing else

  12. ogremustcrush says:

    If we didn’t overmedicate with antibiotics, this would likely never have happened. Nearly freaking every type of infection gets them prescribed, even ones the body could very easily fight off on its own. Even worse is the weakening of the immune system this is causing. Myself, I haven’t had any antibiotics in 12 years, and then I actually needed them. I never get sick anymore, only colds hit me, and I blow them off in 2 days. The immune system will always be the strongest defense against disease, and we should look at strengthening it with technology, as opposed to bypassing it.

  13. LilKoko says:

    @autumnmist: That’s the first thing I thought, too. Also, just because a drug is banned from particular use doesn’t mean it’s not being used illegally by some people.

    Also, that’s pretty impressive that a 17 year old was even doing an experiment like this. I wonder what her hypothesis was.

  14. Lars says:

    @darkclawsofchaos: Actually, such viruses already exist. They’re known as bacteriaphage, or just phage. Several companies are trying to turn phage into effective therapeutics. It’s debatable how well this will actually work as the viruses are detected by the immune system and bacteria can evolve resistance against phage as well.

    More generally, we should not draw much from this news article. Firstly, the bacteria that are resistant are not identified. This is problematic as many naturally occuring bacteria possess resistance to a broad range of antibiotics. Shellfish in the open ocean are a natural habitat for Vibrio species and many of these bacteria have high level resistance to several antibiotics including clinical ones. These bacteria have never been exposed to antibiotics by humans. The second problem with the report of this study is that it does not inform us of the methodologies used to test for resistant bacteria. If one lays down a high number of bacteria on a plate of antibiotic, resistant colonies will always be found due to spontaneous mutation. This is how much work was done on understanding how the ribosome works, by selecting for resistant mutants and then characterizing the mutation. There could be many other problems with this study and we should hold judgement until the results are published.

    This is not to say that high use of antibiotics in farm animals is not a problem. It definitely is. And it is done to keep sickly animals healthy in high density quarters. The thing to realize though is that nearly all antibiotics in use today are derivatives of naturally made antibiotics. Bacteria are constantly exposed to loads of antibiotics in natural communities and resistance emerged long before people ever began utilizing these drugs. Heavy use of them certainly selects for bugs resistant against a particular drug, but the notion that there would be no resistant bacteria without human intervention is false.

  15. homerjay says:

    @Cwolf267: If “The Meaning of Life” has taught us anything its that we are no more than spiriling coils of self-replicating DNA.

  16. Leah says:

    @LilKoko: She’s an international baccalaureate student. That’s an int’l standard curriculum and program that is quite similar to the first two years of college (and, indeed, passes for the first two years of college in many areas). And, I might add, it’s tough as hell — I did part of IB but didn’t get the full diploma. This sort of experiment is not out of the realm of possibility for an IB student to handle.

  17. Leah says:

    @Lars: *nod*

    another key question: have these bacteria been shown to be pathogenic? If not, we have little to worry about. Key to remember that 99.9% of all bacteria are not harmful to humans. In fact, some of those non-harmful bacteria are even helpful.

  18. @Cwolf267: Bleach never failed anyone, if you’re willing to take that risk…

  19. SoCalGNX says:

    @Papa Midnight:
    I used to think that bleach killed everything too. It doesn’t. There are some bacterias or viruses that it does not kill.

  20. Mr. Gunn says:

    Lars: Hear, hear.

    Antibiotics are how bacteria fight each other, and though we have many antibiotics, they have a limited number of evolvable targets.

    /everybody panic?

  21. the_wiggle says:

    @KJones: all of the above

  22. cerbie says:

    @ogremustcrush: but, they are also used heavily to keep these animals, sick from birth, alive and sort of, “well.” Then, that gets around to us. The situation with infections like staph would probably be much better with severe reductions in antibiotic prescriptions, but we basically need a collective kick in the ass (maybe a bacterial pandemic?) to really start taking care of the problem, partly by taking antibiotic research money, and instead looking into how to boost our own immunities.

  23. TechnoDestructo says:


    Hmm…better not undercook chicken, ever, or you could very well have that.

  24. louisb3 says:

    Damn teenagers should be playing Grand Theft Auto and minding their own business.

  25. BeCre8iv says:

    I am not sure how it stands in NZ, but in the UK it works like this.

    The routine use of growth hormones in livestock has been banned for some time, poultry farms cheat by using antibiotic ‘vaccines’ with a growth promoting side effect. This much I know as fact.

    I hypothesise… Routine antibiotic doses among large, confined flocks which are then replaced at time of slaughter provide the ideal conditions for the mutation and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The barns/cages get cleaned between flocks, but hospitals have to fight hard to kill such superbugs.

    This goes way beyond cooking your food properly, google ‘MRSA’ or ‘superbug’ for a background on how serious this actally is.

  26. conjecture says:

    Holy crap. She probably did this experiment for her International Baccalaureate Extended Essay. Only the most aspiring and science-loving students would do theirs on an experiment, as doing your Extended Essay on literature or history is much easier (and encouraged by advisors helping you with your essay.)

    Apart from that, I guess it is true that only IB students know how to spell “baccalaureate.”

  27. parnote says:

    LMAO! And this was discovered in the same country from which Mickey D’s buys it’s beef for it’s “all-beef patties.”

  28. josephers says:

    @conjecture: I did my IB extended essay on wireless energy transfer. =P the experiment was actually fun…

  29. czarandy says:

    I doubt this experiment is all that “advanced”. We did similar things in my high school AP biology class. We grew bacterial cultures and treated them with antibiotics (ampicillin) to see which bacteria were resistant and which weren’t. Then we mixed resistant bacteria with nonresistant ones and all of the bacteria became resistant. It would only be a little more difficult to use chickens as the source for the bacteria.

  30. Pope John Peeps II says:

    @czarandy: TERRORISM!

  31. pkrieger says:

    @Leah: some people would argue that the principle of horizontal transfer, where genes are passed between species, says that any resistance is bad because the benign bacteria can give it to a pathogenic bacteria.
    Lars gave a very eloquent comment about the science, while I disagree with him about their overuse in animals.
    I think what is important to recognize is that sooner or later, bacteria will become resistant to any antibiotic because they exert selective pressures. The problem is that even after understanding this principle, we have pretended that the antibiotics we have will last us forever. We need to be finding new avenues to combat these pathogens, whether that be new antibiotics, biotechnology, or phages. There has been some great progress in this area, hopefully we won’t be wiped out by a superbug before they come to fruition.