The emerging discipline of microbial genomics promises to provide the global health community with deeper insights into the fundamental microbial mechanisms operating throughout the world’s ecosystems, as well as how these might be disrupted, resulting in unintended threats to global well-being. As an example, genomic mechanisms are explaining the dangers associated with the overuse of antimicrobial drugs and the rise of resistance to these compounds among the microbes these drugs have been used to combat in clinical medicine. Microbial genomics, particularly as now enlarged to include epigenetic mechanisms, also holds promise for answering basic questions of biological evolution, including intergenerational transmission of environmental impacts on individuals and populations and threats to global health that can ensue when these mechanisms are disturbed by abrupt geologic or anthropogenic change.
Current IGHHP studies include an investigation of selected bacterial isolates, including Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp. and Enterococcus faecalis, from the intestinal microbiome of coastal marine mammals. These isolates are being tested for resistance to an array of antibiotics comprising the standard NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System) panel, using the micro-dilution method. Selected strains, isolated through traditional culture techniques, will be further investigated using molecular genomic methods to determine the specific resistance determinants that are present. An assessment of antimicrobial resistance genes in marine animals may provide information on how these genes travel through ecosystems, including flows from terrestrial to ocean environments.