Join the antibiotic-resistance movement

11/24/2017 7:41:31 PM

It’s the Thanksgiving holiday and many of us are stuffed to the gizzard with all the traditional fixings and goodies. Being the microbiology nerd I am, I also have birds on the brain but likely not in the same way as most Americans. When I think of Turkey Day, I can’t help but recall a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air that featured journalist Maryn McKenna, author of the book “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats.”


In her book, McKenna chronicles the rise of prophylactic-antibiotic practices in the poultry industry to create massively big birds, along with the subsequent increase in antibiotic-resistant infections that may be tied to the handling and consumption of farm animals. And public awareness of these issues is causing things to change. McKenna points out that consumer demand for antibiotic-free chickens has led several major producers to eliminate the use of antibiotics all together.


Media coverage of public-health issues, such as the rise in multiresistant bacteria (aka “superbugs”), just really gets people's attention. But the truth is that scientists have been crying “fowl” (last pun, I promise) about the overuse of antibiotics in agricultural production and healthcare settings for decades. This fact demonstrates we must continue to be effective science communicators to get the message out and effect policy changes.


Fortunately, there is a renewed momentum to address this issue on a global scale. As with many complex science challenges, a multifaceted approach is required, which means there is a diverse range of career paths that exist to aid in these efforts and include:  

  • Research and development to discover novel antimicrobial therapies; develop diagnostic tests that rapidly characterize antibiotic-susceptibility profiles to inform treatment options; and understand how to promote a healthy microbiome. For example, some scientists are exploring ancient medical texts to find potential natural sources of antibiotics.
  • Science policy to create solutions that limit the widespread use of antimicrobial agents for purposes other than necessary medical treatment. For example, both the World Health Organization and the Federal Drug Administration recently have released new guidance and policies for limiting the use of medically important antibiotics in agricultural production.
  • Education and outreach to raise awareness among the public, including healthcare providers and farmers, about the issue and how they can take action to reduce the prevalence of antibiotic resistance. For example, last week was World Antibiotic Awareness Week with a focus on teaching the public how to responsibly use antibiotics.
  • Public health to implement effective infection-control measures that limit the spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and conduct biosurveillance to monitor for the emergence of new antimicrobial resistances. For example, in the U.S., several government agencies contribute to the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System.

And after you have awakened from your self-induced food coma, here are some resources and job postings you may want to check out if you are interested in joining the global fight against antibiotic resistance.


Antibiotic-resistance initiatives


Below are links to a number of antibiotic-resistance initiatives ongoing among various government agencies, policymaking organizations and private industry. These sites provide useful resources to help educate the public about the issue. Additionally you may want to keep track of these programs for upcoming funding and career opportunities. (For example, The Pew Charitable Trusts had several related positions listed on its careers site, but the posting dates were quite outdated, so I didn’t include in the weekly jobs roundup.)


The Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge


If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you may consider forming a team to enter the Antimicrobial Resistance Diagnostic Challenge sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The challenge is seeking innovative proposals for rapid, clinical-based tests related to identifying antibiotic resistance (or discerning bacterial vs. viral infections) that will inform healthcare decisions on effective treatment strategies and infection prevention. The challenge is in phase two but any person is still eligible to enter at this point. Monetary prizes of $100,000 will be awarded to each of 10 semi-finalists in this phase. Review the website for details on eligibility and submission requirements. Registration is required along with a letter of intent that will be accepted from March 28 to Aug. 3, followed by a proposal-submission period.


Weekly jobs roundup

  • The Idaho Veterans Research and Education Foundation, affiliated with the VA Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, is hiring a postdoctoral research fellow to study antibiotic-induced toxin production and identify therapeutic targets in Staphylococcus aureus. The applicant must be within five years of having obtained a Ph.D. in a field related to microbial pathogenesis. Applications are being reviewed on a rolling basis. 
  • The J. Craig Venter Institute has openings for both a staff scientist and postdoctoral fellow within the Infectious Disease Program at the Rockville, Md., facility. Both positions require either a Ph.D. or M.D. in a relevant scientific discipline and experience with antibiotic-testing methods, molecular typing and bioinformatics. The research focus for the positions is not explicitly stated, but JCVI works on a wide range of projects that includes genomic profiling of multidrug resistant microorganisms. No application deadlines are posted.
  • The Jackson Laboratory is seeking a postdoctoral associate in microbial genomics at its Farmington, Conn., location. The researcher will develop new tools for and study genomic variations within human and mouse microbiomes, including the role of mobile genetic elements in antibiotic resistance among pathogens. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in the life sciences or computational biology and bioinformatic experience. No application deadline is posted.
  • PhAST Diagnostics, a new tech startup in the Boston area, is recruiting several members for its founding research team. The company is developing single-cell imaging techniques to identify microbes and profile antibiotic susceptibilities. Positions are available at both the Ph.D. and bachelor’s degree levels. See the job postings for details on qualifications. No application deadlines are posted.
  • DayZero Diagnostics, another tech startup in the Boston area, is hiring for several positions that include both lab- and computational-based work. DZD is focused on using a whole-genome sequencing approach for the rapid detection of microbes and associated antibiotic resistances. Positions are available at all degree levels. See the job posting for details on qualifications. No application deadlines are posted.
  • OpenBiome, a nonprofit in the Boston area that is advancing the use of fecal microbiota transplants and research on the human microbiome, is looking for a microbiome epidemiology research fellow. The fellow will conduct a comprehensive literature search and meta-analysis of host–microbiome research related to adolescent health, which will inform the direction of a new developmental microbiome research initiative. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in epidemiology, immunology, microbiology or public health. No application deadline is posted.
  • The Department of Microbiology–Immunology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is accepting applications for a tenure-track professor at any level. Areas of preferred research focus include antibiotic resistance, bacterial pathogenesis, beneficial microbes or host-pathogen interactions. The priority application deadline for full consideration is Dec. 15.
  • The Departments of Global Health and Medicine at the University of Washington are jointly searching for a nontenure track assistant or research assistant professor to oversee diagnostics testing and infectious-disease research conducted in both the Neisseria Reference Laboratory and Chlamydia Laboratory. The NRL is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Antibiotic Resistance Laboratory Network. Qualifications include a Ph.D. in microbiology or related field. No application deadline is provided.
  • The World Health Organization is hiring a specialist in antimicrobial resistance data analysis to be stationed in Washington, D.C. The specialist will assist with global efforts to monitor antimicrobial resistance via surveillance systems. Qualifications include a bachelor’s degree related to health sciences and five years of experience in data analysis and health statistics. The application deadline is Nov. 26.

P.S. If you are looking for ways to keep your gut microbiota happy and healthy the rest of the winter-holiday season, check out this recent blog post by the American Society for Microbiology.


Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (

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