Antibiotic Resistance in Airborne Bacteria Near Conventional and Organic Beef Cattle Farms in California, USA

  • Helen M. Sancheza
  • Cristina Echeverria
  • Vanessa Thulsiraj
  • Amy Zimmer-Faust
  • Ariel Flores
  • Madeleine Laitz
  • Gregory Healy
  • Shaily Mahendra
  • Suzanne E. Paulson
  • Yifang Zhu
  • Jennifer A. JayEmail author


Levels of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and the fractions of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) among culturable heterotrophic bacteria were compared in outdoor air near conventional (n = 3) and organic (n = 3) cattle rearing facilities. DNA extracts from filters taken from 18 locations were analyzed by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) for five ARGs. At the reference (non-agricultural) site, all genes were below detection. ARGs sul1, bla SHV, erm(B), and bla TEM were more frequently detected and at higher levels (up to 870 copies m−3 for bla SHV and 750 copies m−3 for sul1) near conventional farms compared to organic locations while the opposite was observed for erm(F) (up to 210 copies m−3). Isolates of airborne heterotrophic bacteria (n = 1295) collected from the sites were tested for growth in the presence of six antibiotics. By disk diffusion on a subset of isolates, the fractions of ARB were higher for conventional sites compared to organic farms for penicillin (0.9 versus 0.63), cloxacillin (0.74 versus 0.23), cefoperazone (0.58 versus 0.14), and sulfamethazine (0.50 versus 0.33) for isolates on nutrient agar. All isolates’ ΔA600pres/ΔA600abs were measured for each of the six tested antibiotics; isolates from farms downwind of organic sites had a lower average ΔA600pres/ΔA600abs for most antibiotics. In general, all three analyses used to indicate microbial resistance to antibiotics showed increases in air samples nearby conventional versus organic cattle rearing facilities. Regular surveillance of airborne ARB and ARGs near conventional and organic beef cattle farms is suggested.


Antibiotic resistance Organic Conventional Air ARGs Cattle 



This material is based upon research performed in a renovated collaboratory by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0963183, which is an award funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). We are grateful to Winston Lee, Karmina Padgett, Elizabeth Roswell, Cindy Xiong, and Alicia Amundson. Funding was provided by the Natural Resources Defense Fund and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen M. Sancheza
  • Cristina Echeverria
    • 1
  • Vanessa Thulsiraj
    • 1
  • Amy Zimmer-Faust
    • 1
  • Ariel Flores
    • 1
  • Madeleine Laitz
    • 1
  • Gregory Healy
    • 1
  • Shaily Mahendra
    • 1
  • Suzanne E. Paulson
    • 1
  • Yifang Zhu
    • 1
  • Jennifer A. Jay
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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