Microbial control: Does excessive hygiene promote antibiotic resistance?

An example of an environment with a likely strong microbial control
©iStock/Gorodenkoff

An interdisciplinary cooperation project has investigated the influence of microbial control, the degree of cleaning and hygiene measures, on the development of antibiotic resistance.

Gabriele Berg, the head of the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), carried out the research with national partners of the Medical University of Graz in the framework of the BioTechMed-Graz inter-university cooperation and international partners. The results are published in Nature Communications.

The development of antibiotic resistance

The number of people who get ill and die from antibiotic resistant germs is increasing worldwide, and antibiotic resistance is now viewed as one of the most important global challenges to address by researchers and organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

Environments with strong microbial control

The new research compared the microbiome and the resistome, all existing microorganisms and antibiotic resistances, compared the following environments:

  • The intensive care unit of the Department of Internal Medicine at University Hospital Graz;
  • Clean rooms that have strong microbial control in the aerospace industry; and
  • Public and private buildings which have hardly any microbial controls.

The research showed that microbial diversity decreases in the areas with high levels of hygiene. However, the diversity of resistances increases.

Dr Alexander Mahnert, director of studies at the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology of TU Graz, is currently conducting research at the Medical University of Graz. Mahnert explained: “In environments with strong microbial control in the intensive care unit and industrially used clean rooms, there are increasing antibiotic resistances which show a high potential for combining with pathogens.”

The future of the research

Berg added: “The microbial control of pathogens is already being successfully used in cultivated plants and also in humans in the framework of stool transplantation. Our study provides an initial foundation to pursue such ideas in indoor areas in the future.”

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