Veterinary medicines and feed additives in the environment following use in the poultry industry

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Geography


Veterinary medicines are a mainstay of modern farming practice and are widely used to treat disease and to protect the health of animals. However, following their use these chemicals can be inadvertently introduced into the environment where they present an ecosystem and human health risk. Veterinary medicines such as antibiotics are biologically active chemicals designed to elicit effects and this potency is not lost when these chemicals enter the environment. Antibiotics administered to poultry and livestock for example, along with feed additives, can make their way in soil systems by direct release in animal waste products. Therefore, before any new medicine can be brought to market it has to undergo an authorisation process which involves an environmental risk assessment.

Environmental risk assessments consider the likely exposure routes, environmental fate and behaviour of the chemical. Nevertheless, most research to date evaluating veterinary medicine degradation has focussed on liquid manures and the fate of veterinary medicines in poultry litter remains largely unknown. There is also a significant knowledge gap surrounding the fate of feed additives administered to livestock. The poultry industry continues to grow and the development of intensive production units represents a threat to the environment. Poultry manure is very different matrix to liquid manures with a lower water content and is typically aerobic. Differences in properties such as this have the potential to alter the fate and behaviour of chemicals in the manure itself and ultimately the risk of these chemicals when they are introduced into the environment.

This project will address this significant knowledge gap by generating new understanding around the variability and influence of properties on the degradation of veterinary medicines and feed additives. Working in collaboration with scientists at Fera Science Limited will enable access to state-of-the-art instrumentation, laboratories and specialist expertise in environmental risk assessment. A key aspect of this project will build on previous findings which have demonstrated that antibiotics can affect soil microbial community composition and structure to understand how manure laced with antibiotic residues can influence soil microorganisms by changing their enzyme activity and ability to metabolize different carbon sources, as well as by altering the overall microbial biomass and the relative abundance of different groups. This topic urgently warrants further investigation given the increasing use of organic fertilisers in agriculture and the demand of veterinary medicines.

Aim and objectives
The overall aim of this project is to better understand the fate and effects of veterinary medicines in manure-soil systems. This will be achieved using a combination of an experimental approach in the laboratory and field trials utilising facilities available at the University of Leeds farm and Fera Science Limited. The specific objectives are to:
1. Characterise the degradation of veterinary medicines and feed additives in poultry manure
2. Develop better understanding of the variability and property influence of manure type on degradation
3. Investigate the impact of different manure types of soil-plant interactions including impacts on soil microbial biomass and the relative abundance of different groups soil microorganisms.
4. Assess manure and/or soil samples for associated Antimicrobial Resistant (AMR) Bacteria or genes. This could be by; isolation of taxa or interest followed by phenotypic screening or Whole Genome Sequencing; qPCR of target AMR genes, or non-targeted High Throughput Sequencing of samples.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007458/1 01/09/2019 30/09/2027
2743336 Studentship NE/S007458/1 01/10/2022 31/03/2026 Bethany Adams