How Congress ignored science and fueled antibiotic resistance

The study would not go as the industry hoped and would definitely change the debate on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

Meet the Downings

The study was led by Boston researcher Dr. Stuart B. Levy. Levy was 36 in 1974. He was the son of a Delaware family doctor and had grown up accompanying his father on home visits and discussing cases afterward. He was a faculty member at Tufts University School of Medicine, in a part of Boston that is now gentrified but was cheap and shabby at the time, and he had taken a roundabout route to get there, studying first literature, then medicine, then microbiology. Italy and France.

The researchers had confirmed an earlier finding that genes conferring resistance to antibiotics could stack up and be carried from one bacteria to another. This would allow an organism to develop resistance before being exposed to a drug, while also allowing several types of resistance to spread. This threatened to make the resistance much more difficult to follow and fight.

The Institute of Animal Health found Levy and offered to fund a study on behalf of the farm’s antibiotics. That’s why there were shit-stained swab tubes in the Downings refrigerator. These were tools that would help Levy establish, or disprove, whether resistance could migrate through the environment, from animals that had received antibiotics, to animals and people who did not. Supporters of growth promoters hoped the answer would be no.

Levy didn’t know the Downings, but he did know what he needed to make the proposed study possible: a place that looked like a farm but didn’t function as one. He needed new animals that had never received antibiotics, a place to raise them where antibiotics had not been used in the recent past, and a group of animal handlers large enough to keep them. conduct the experiment and in good enough health not to take antibiotics themselves. For bonus points, the location had to be close enough to his office that he and his staff could get around affordably. In the affluent suburb of Boston, it was a complex order to fulfill. He didn’t even know where to look, but he started to ask around. The rural suburbs of Boston are very different from the city, but so many people commute there that they are more closely connected than they appear. News of Levy’s search for a place to conduct his study passed through the medical community, and after some time someone got in touch: a vet responsible for mice and other animals that Massachusetts General Hospital was keeping for. do research. He lived in the small town of Sherborn, 20 miles southwest of Boston. Her neighbors across the street were a relaxed and irreverent family; they had a lot of children; and they lived on a large plot with a few barns that used to be an egg sorting business. He offered to do an introduction.

Levy has gone to meet the Downings. He described what he envisioned: a temporary farm housing 300 chickens, to be maintained for at least a year. Richard Downing loved the mischievous, focused doctor, and he loved the idea of ​​contributing knowledge and letting his children watch an experience up close. But he had grown up on a poultry farm in the coastal town of Weymouth, and he knew Levy didn’t know how to accomplish what he wanted to do.

“I told him he was crazy – he had no idea what it would take,” Downing recalls. “He had to build the pens, buy the feed, install the watering system, heat, find someone to take care of them, get someone to clean up. And he said I was right, and he was hoping we could help.

The Downings accepted the challenge – out of fun and curiosity, and because being unconventional had never worried them before. To handle the experience, they named their eldest daughter, Mary. A sophomore student at a local university, she lived at home to save money. She wanted to go to France after graduation, but with so many other children at home, spare funds were lacking. She and her parents and Levy made a deal. She watched the chickens, watered and fed them, and collected all the data Levy needed, which she learned meant collecting droppings, and not just birds. He offered to pay her $ 50 every week, around $ 250 now. She signed.

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