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Farmacology: Johns Hopkins researchers are investigating a troubling potential source of resistant pathogens: the American farm

By Dale Keiger

Ellen Silbergeld, Eng '72 (PhD), recalls that she did not want to go to the seminar. She was a professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1999 when her department's chairman needed an audience for the seminar's presenter, a candidate for a faculty position. Silbergeld recalls the chairman saying, "Please, just sit in the room. You can come to lunch." So she sat in the room, and something caught her attention. The seminar was on hospital-acquired infections, but the presenter mentioned in passing that some drug-resistant infections came from food. That seemed odd. Silbergeld knew you could pick up Salmonella from, say, tainted chicken salad. But how would that Salmonella have become resistant to antibiotics? She turned to a colleague and asked. Because, he said, factory chicken farms routinely feed antibiotics to their flocks, to accelerate growth, and the drugs generate resistance.

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