How Congress Ignored Science and Fueled Antibiotic Resistance

Maryn McKenna | Wired | September 12, 2017

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

Researchers had confirmed an earlier discovery that genes conferring antibiotic resistance could stack up and be carried from one bacterium to another. That would allow an organism to acquire resistance in advance of ever being exposed to a drug, while also allowing multiple types of resistance to spread. It threatened to make resistance much harder to track and combat.

The Animal Health Institute found Levy and offered to fund a study on behalf of farm antibiotics. That was why there were tubes of poop-stained sample swabs in the Downings’ refrigerator. They 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 had not. Growth promoters’ proponents hoped the answer would be no...