Summer Research Project Examines Organic Chicken

Wittum Summer ResearchResearchers in veterinary medicine are spending their summer buying organic and antibiotic-free chicken from stores in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania and analyzing it for strains of bacteria such as Salmonella.

“Many products imply that ‘organic’ is healthier,” said Dr. Thomas Wittum, “but few studies have challenged those marketing claims on the actual health benefits of organic and even so-called ‘antibiotic-free’ meat products.”

The trend toward organic food products is in part driven by concerns about antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance, especially to beta lactam antibiotics, including penicillin derivatives, can occur as the result of the acquisition of a gene encoding for the production of beta lactamase enzymes, thus rendering the antibiotics useless.

Dr. Wittum’s research team includes summer research students Erin Bryant and Johana Cenera, who also holds a Master’s in Veterinary Public Health (VPH), VPH student Christy King, and lab manager Dixie Mollenkopf. The results of their study may offer insights for public health policy. Johana and Erin will travel to Colorado State University this August to present the study’s preliminary findings at the Merial NIH Symposium and will also present a research poster at the college at the end of the summer research program.

Dr. Wittum has done extensive research investigating the epidemiology of antimicrobial resistance, Salmonella, and E. coli in food producing animals in conjunction with various collaborators in the college including Dr. Josh Daniels, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and Dr. Wondwossen Gebreyes, professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and director of Global Health Programs. Summer research allows veterinary and undergraduate students alike to participate in research that is relevant to local and global issues, such as food safety. In addition, programs like the College of Public Health’s Master’s in Veterinary Public Health program foster many collaborative research projects that address public health concerns relating to food production and processing.

One of Ohio State’s three research “areas of discovery,” food safety and security are also a key component of the One Health movement, which further emphasizes the importance of veterinary medicine in solving farm and public health concerns.

Student research updates can be found on the veterinary student research blog.