Alyssa Beavers, a postdoc in Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FHSN) recently earned a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
Beavers was awarded $156,000 to fund her research focused on the impact of gardening on the human gut microbiome, or the bacteria that live inside intestines, and antibiotic resistance, which impacts people’s ability to fight off infections.
“This fellowship is a fantastic opportunity for me to study a topic I am passionate about: the intersection between human health and the natural environment, while at the same time gaining new skills and learning from amazing mentors and community partners,” Beavers said.
The study, which began in May 2019, investigates whether having contact with soil can result in bacteria from the soil or antibiotic resistance properties transferring to the human gut microbiome. Beavers is analyzing stool samples from gardeners and samples of composts and soils that gardeners use.
Allergy and asthma are among conditions associated with changes in the gut microbiome. It isn’t known whether antibiotic resistance can transfer from soil and compost containing animal manure to humans. Antibiotics are widely used in animal agriculture.
“This research is important to understand how human interaction with the natural environment influences the bacteria found in our intestines’ resistance to antibiotics,” Beavers said. “It’s not only applicable to gardeners, but also to farmers, ranchers and others who may have frequent occupational exposure to soil and animal manure.”
Beavers’ collaborators on this project include FHSN faculty Katherine Alaimo and Sarah Comstock, and MSU Microbiology and Molecular Genetics faculty Ashley Shade and James Tiedje, as well as the Greater Lansing (Mich.) Food Bank Garden Project.
NIFA awards fellowships annually to postdoctoral researchers around the country to help develop the next generation of research, education and extension professionals supporting current and future agricultural challenges. MSU received seven of 71 total fellowships awarded in 2019 by NIFA.