Free online course tackles the issues behind antimicrobial resistance in the food chain

Pigs receiving antibiotics
02 Nov 2016 11:57:40.490

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The rapidly growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is one of the biggest crises currently facing humanity. But what can be done internationally to tackle this catastrophe which is threatening to return modern medicine to the Dark Ages?

During World Antibiotic Awareness Week (14 to 20 November 2016) a new free online course is being launched by The University of Nottingham aimed at increasing awareness of the issues about this global concern.

Aimed at anyone with an interest in antibiotics, food and farming, the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in the Food Chain course will offer the opportunity to learn more about what antibiotics are, how they work and how bacteria become resistant to their effects. 

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Growing threat

Antimicrobial resistance has become a global hot topic over the last few years with the recent report by Lord Jim O'Neill suggesting that this could throw medicine back into the Dark Ages with up to 10 million deaths by the year 2050. This is the equivalent of one death every three seconds. Medical and veterinary professionals have been aware of this problem for 10 years but it is only recently that the public and politicians have become aware of this as a growing threat to international public and animal health and national economies.

Dr Robert Atterbury, of the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, a leader on the course, said: “Antibiotics are not only used to treat human infections, they're also used to treat livestock diseases. And in some countries, they're used to stimulate the growth of livestock. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be carried in the intestines of livestock and contaminate carcasses during the slaughter process and ultimately end up in the meat on our plates. So we can't divorce ourselves from the consequences of using antibiotics in our food production. 

“We live in a shrinking economic world. How do the farm practices of far-flung countries affect what happens to us here? Perhaps we can live in a world without antibiotics. But what would such a world look like?” 

Registration is now open at The three-week course will begin on 14 November 2016 and will be hosted on the FutureLearn MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform in conjunction with the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, and the AgriFood Advanced Training Partnership (ATP).

From farm to plate

The course comprises short videos, articles, quizzes and discussions that can be accessed in a participant’s own time. If all elements are completed, it should take around three hours per week to fully take part.

Those studying on the course will learn about the scientific mechanisms and farm practices which have enabled potentially harmful bacteria to become steadily more resistant (e.g. E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter), and the ways in which they can transfer from the farm to our dinner plates, potentially leading to infections in humans which may not be treatable.

Key speakers include representatives from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), the pharmaceutical industries, and academics working in veterinary and human health from both the UK and overseas.

By the end of the course, participants should have all the information they need to make up their own mind about what we should do to tackle this immensely important problem.

It is not necessary to have studied this subject before to take part in the course. All that is needed is a keen interest, an internet connection and device (computer, tablet or phone), and a few hours each week to take part.

On successfully finishing the course, participants will have the opportunity to purchase a certificate of completion. The course also acts as a useful springboard for other more advanced courses on animal health offered by AgriFood ATP – a partnership of four universities and research institutes (Nottingham, Harper Adams, Cranfield and Rothamsted Research) which provides skills and training to the sector.

The course draws on a wealth of expertise on AMR at the University of Nottingham, which is aiming to develop our understanding of the issue and find practical solutions to this worldwide concern through its research programme Bridging the Gaps: Systems-level Approaches to Antimicrobial Resistance, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

— Ends —

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest-ever fundraising campaign, is delivering the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Robert Atterbury +44 (0) 115 951 6088, or Professor Paul Barrow in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science on +44 (0)115 951 6428,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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