Penn State University (PSU) scientists have received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA’s NIFA) to assess the level of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) among foodborne bacteria in Puerto Rico's dairy industry and to train farmers and students on AMR mitigation. The four-year grant will enable the PSU-led team to quantify the prevalence of drug-resistant Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus on 20 farms across Puerto Rico.

The project will be the first to systematically analyze the extent of AMR in microorganisms in Puerto Rico’s dairy sector. The researchers will also collect data on milk quality and hygiene level to develop extension seminars on the risk of AMR, as well as affordable, accessible solutions that dairy farmers in Puerto Rico can implement to enhance milk quality and safety.

AMR is a rising issue in the Puerto Rican dairy industry due to farmers who, in violation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Veterinary Feed Directive, obtain antibiotics through unapproved channels and administer the drugs to animals without receiving advice from veterinarians or county extension agents about best practices.

E. coli and S. aureus were chosen as the focus for the project because they are the bacteria most commonly causing mastitis—an udder infection—in dairy cows. Mastitis is being used as a model to investigate AMR of the target pathogens in farm environments around Puerto Rico. The researchers will develop training tools for farmers about prudent use of antimicrobials, as well as train undergraduate students about issues surrounding this global problem.

Led by PSU food scientists, the research team will include 16 undergraduates from the University of Puerto Rico Aricebo, who will participate in career seminars intended to prepare future leaders in the field of AMR in microorganisms. The research team lead is Ed Dudley, Ph.D., Professor of Food Science and Director of the E. coli Reference Center at PSU. Other team members include Yadira Malavez-Acevedo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez; Jaime Curbelo, Ph.D., Professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez; and Anna Acosta, a doctoral student in Dr. Dudley’s research group at Penn State.