Doctoral Research Finds Urgent Need for Heightened Regulations in SA Animal Food Production

A UKZN researcher says he has found evidence to support the urgent implementation of heightened antibiotic regulation and stewardship in the animal food production system in South Africa.

Ghanaian-born, Dr Daniel Amoako did the research for his PhD in Pharmaceutical Microbiology producing a thesis titled: Molecular and Genomic Profiling of Staphylococcus aureus from “Farm-to-Fork” in an Intensive Poultry Production System in the uMgungundlovu District of KwaZulu-Natal.

The multi-faceted study, believed to be the first of its kind in South Africa, involved Amoako using the One-Health multi-faceted approach (human, animal and environmental) to gain insights into the drivers of antibiotic resistance in the food chain and their potential link with human health.

Staphylococcus aureus is the most dangerous of all of the many common staphylococcal bacteria. The gram-positive bacteria often cause skin infections but can also cause pneumonia, heart valve infections, and bone infections.

Studies have found that poultry is the most consumed meat in South Africa with consumption of about 2.152 million tons, according to the South African Poultry Association.

The Association reported that the consumption of chicken in 2016 accounted for 60% of the total animal protein consumed in South Africa, dwarfing the total consumption of other food animals such as sheep, beef, veal, and pork.

The high demand for chicken has resulted in the extensive use of different antimicrobial agents but there is limited data on the microbial quality and safety in intensive poultry production, particularly in relation to S. aureus contamination.

As part of Amoako’s study, 384 samples were examined from selected critical control points across the “farm-to-fork” continuum for S. aureus. Farm to fork refers to the product being transported from the farm to the slaughterhouse and finally to retail points. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) and bioinformatic analysis were used to understand the multi-drug resistant strains isolated in continuum.

Amoako’s study, supervised by SA Research Chair of Antibiotic Resistance and One Health in South Africa Professor Sabiha Essack, demonstrated the need to develop a comprehensive One-Health surveillance system in South Africa using high-throughput technologies to aid in the development of targeted interventions.

Amoako is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the infection genomics and applied bioinformatics division of the Antimicrobial Research Unit at UKZN under the mentorship of Essack. He is involved in several large-scale microbial whole-genome sequencing projects and actively translates different pathogenomics data into genetic epidemiology using bioinformatic tools for the benefit of South Africa’s public, private, food, animal and environmental health sectors. He also applies metagenomics, transcriptomics, and microbiomics to investigate human health and disease.

Commenting at his Graduation ceremony, Amoako said: ‘I pursued my postgraduate research degree at UKZN because it is one of the prestigious universities in the world that truly nurtures the next generation scientist. My main inspiration is God. Without Him I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate all the obstacles throughout my PhD study. My family is very proud and excited to finally see me achieve my dream and I greatly appreciate their support because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am also thankful to Professor Essack, Dr Linda Bester, Dr King Abia, Dr Anou Somboro and the UKZN Ghanaian community.

Words: MaryAnn Francis