Are Biocides and Antibiotic Resistance Connected?


November 14, 2023

With the rise of multidrug-resistant bacteria, antibiotic resistance has become a growing concern. The widespread use of biocides in household products, food preservatives, agriculture, and clinical settings has created similar concerns about the potential for bacteria to evade the effects of biocides. Could the use of biocides in hospitals, wastewater, agriculture, etc. contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance? 

In their article, "Current Understanding of Potential Linkages between Biocide Tolerance and Antibiotic Cross-Resistance," in the journal Microorganisms, Exponent authors Kent Coombs, Ph.D., Cristina Rodriguez Quijada, Ph.D., Jason Clevenger, Ph.D., and Alexis Sauer-Budge, Ph.D., analyze the potential links between biocide usage and antibiotic cross-resistance through an extensive literature review. 

In their evaluation, the authors find insufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship between biocide tolerance and antibiotic cross-resistance; however, a lack of standardized testing in real-world settings remains a key challenge. 

For example, "for bacteria strains that were adapted to increase biocide tolerance," the authors state, "the bacterial phenotype stability was rarely assessed. Knowing whether the adapted bacteria would be able to survive non-idealized laboratory conditions, as well as if the changes that confer biocide tolerance remain after the selection pressure is removed, are important questions that have not yet been addressed." 

Because antibiotics usually interact with real-world environments, where other factors besides biocides may influence antibiotic resistance, more research is warranted.

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"Current Understanding of Potential Linkages between Biocide Tolerance and Antibiotic Cross-Resistance"

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From the publication: "Due to some similarities between the antibiotic resistance and biocide tolerance mechanisms, as well as the use of both in certain contexts, such as healthcare, animal husbandry, and food production, concerns have been raised that the use of biocides may result in antibiotic resistance and subsequent treatment failure."