Agricultural intensification and the evolution of host specialism in the enteric pathogen Campylobacter jejuni

The group’s latest paper investigating the emergence of cattle specialist strains of Campylobacter jejuni associated with intensive animal agriculture was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Abstract below]

Cattle in a US feedlot
Bath University press release: Intensive farming increases risk of epidemics
Sheffield University press release: Intensive farming increases risk of epidemics

Campylobacter jejuni under an electron microscope
Transmission electron micrograph of Campylobacter jejuni (x2200 magnification). Image taken by Dr Aidan Taylor. University of Sheffield

Modern agriculture has dramatically changed the distribution of animal species on Earth. Changes to host ecology have a major impact on the microbiota, potentially increasing the risk of zoonotic pathogens being transmitted to humans, but the impact of intensive livestock production on host-associated bacteria has rarely been studied. Here, we use large isolate collections and comparative genomics techniques, linked to phenotype studies, to understand the timescale and genomic adaptations associated with the proliferation of the most common food-born bacterial pathogen (Campylobacter jejuni) in the most prolific agricultural mammal (cattle). Our findings reveal the emergence of cattle specialist C. jejuni lineages from a background of host generalist strains that coincided with the dramatic rise in cattle numbers in the 20th century. Cattle adaptation was associated with horizontal gene transfer and significant gene gain and loss. This may be related to differences in host diet, anatomy, and physiology, leading to the proliferation of globally disseminated cattle specialists of major public health importance. This work highlights how genomic plasticity can allow important zoonotic pathogens to exploit altered niches in the face of anthropogenic change and provides information for mitigating some of the risks posed by modern agricultural systems.

Headline facts and figures
– 95 articles across online and print
– 439 million potential total news reach (monthly online visitors to websites)
– Coverage in UK, US, Europe, India, Japan and Australia
– Social media posts had 6279 impressions on Twitter; the video interview with Evangelos had 920 views
– Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) £4.1 million

It has received some media attention from:
Independent: Coronavirus: Industrial animal farming has caused most new infectious diseases and risks more pandemics
Independent: Coronavirus: Intensive farming provides perfect conditions for viruses to spread between animals and humans
The Daily Mail: Intensive farming provides the perfect conditions for bacteria and viruses to spread between animals and humans and increases the risk of epidemics
BBC Science Focus: Disease transfer in intensive farming poses ‘huge public health risk’
ScienceDaily: Intensive farming increases risk of epidemics
EurekAlerts: Intensive farming increases risk of epidemics Intensive farming increases risk of epidemics
United Press International: Intensive farming makes epidemics more likely
Express & Star: Intensive farming practices ‘provide perfect environment for bugs to spread’
New Food Magazine: Intensive farming increases risk of pathogenic outbreaks
Lots of local media including [here][here] and [here].
And there is a video of Sam [here] and Evangelos [here] discussing the work.

PNASNews tweet
Greta Thunberg’s tweet!

International media
US News & World Report [USA] Times of India [India] Business Standard [India] Mainichi [Japan] Europa press [Spain] El comercio [Spain] El Pais [Costa Rica] [Italy] Publimetro [Mexico] Gizmodo [Brazil] Mundo Agropecuario [Venezuela] The Pakistan Post [Pakistan] Noticias Ao Minuto [Portugal] Radio e Tevelisao de Portugal [Portugal] [Canada] Lavoz [Argentina] Kopalnia Wiedzy [Poland] SVT Nyheter [Sweden] Gizmodo [Australia] [Greece] [Greece]


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