01:17pm Sunday 05 April 2020

Disinfectants may be contributing to antibiotic resistance

Cleaning products for use in commercial, agricultural and domestic settings could be contributing to a rise in bacterial resistance in food borne pathogens including Salmonella, BBSRC-funded scientists at Birmingham University have found. They recommend a decrease in the “frivolous” use of biocides, particularly in domestic products to ensure the number of resistant bacterial strains does not increase. Improving the control of bacteria that cause food poisoning reduces losses and wastage throughout the food production pipeline thus helping to ensure future food security.

Salmonella typhimurium © Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH
Salmonella typhimurium © Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

Biocides are chemicals which kill pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and are therefore commonly used in hospitals, farms, food processing outlets and increasingly the home, to eradicate bacteria and prevent sources of possible infection. Increased use of biocides in domestic products has lead to accumulation and persistence of some biocides in the environment. It is this persistence which is of interest to Dr Mark Webber and his team.

“The use of biocides in many settings is crucial but the increasing accumulation of biocides in the environment can lead to bacteria being repeatedly exposed to them in low concentrations. We have found in the laboratory that this exposure results in bacteria which adapt and become more tolerant to biocides but are also in some cases cross-resistant to antibiotics used for treatment of infection” said Dr Webber.

While many uses of biocides are essential, some could be described as frivolous. Biocide use should be restricted to where there is a clear need or benefit in order to lessen the likelihood of biocide and antibiotic resistance emerging. There are already a number of pathogenic bacteria which cannot be killed using conventional antibiotic treatment. Alternative treatment regimes are being investigated, but it is recommended that measures, such as limiting unnecessary use of biocides, are taken to ensure the number of antibiotic resistant strains remains low.

Dr Mark Webber, winner of the 2010 W. H. Pierce prize awarded by the Society for Applied Microbiology, will present work relating to how bacteria respond to biocide stress and mechanisms of biocide tolerance and antibiotic resistance at 15.45 BST on 7 July 2010 at the Grand, Hotel, Brighton for the annual SfAM Summer Conference.


Notes to editors

Additional information about the conference or speakers is available from the external contact below.

Dr Mark Webber will be presenting at the SfAM Summer Conference at 15.45 BST on Wednesday 7 July 2010 and is available for interview before or after his presentation.

A full conference programme can be found at: www.sfam.org.uk/summer_conference.php.

About SfAM

SfAM is the voice of Applied Microbiology within the UK. It is the oldest UK microbiology society with members worldwide. In 2006 SfAM celebrated it’s 75th anniversary and a number of special events were held during the year. The final celebration was the President’s Dinner which was held in the Palace of Westminster on 23rd November 2006. SfAM works in partnership with sister organisations and microbiological bodies such as FEMS (The European Federation of Microbiological Societies) and the Society of Biology to ensure that microbiology and microbiologists are able to exert influence on policy-makers within the UK, in Europe and world-wide.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Dr Lucy Harper, Communications Manager, Society for Applied Microbiology

tel: 01234 326709
mob: 07920 264596

Clare Doggett, Communications Officer, Society for Applied Microbiology

mob: 07807 267101


Matt Goode, Deputy Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Nancy Mendoza, Senior Media Officer

tel: 01793 413355
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382

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