October 6, 2022, by Lexi Earl

Antibiotic resistance and AI: New role for Dr Tania Dottorini

Dr Tania Dottorini, Associate Professor in Bioinformatics and a member of the Future Food Beacon, is taking up a new position (alongside her day job) as the Director for the Centre of Smart Food for Health (CSFH), at the University of Nottingham Ningbo Campus. Dr Dottorini, based in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, uses large data sets and machine learning to correlate genomic information on pathogens (especially bacteria, superbugs and antibiotic resistance) to better understand how pathogens infect different hosts, and crucially, how these infections can be prevented.

Dr Dottorini is currently working on a large project – FARMWATCH[1] – which uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to understand and contain the emergence of antibiotic resistance (ABR) in the livestock production system in China. Antibiotic resistance is a challenge for public health worldwide, and is particularly prevalent in livestock production systems where animals are routinely given antibiotics. Changing diets, including an increased demand for meat products, has direct effects on livestock production, intensifying the use of antibiotics and leading to higher increases in ABR incidence among animals and a bigger risk of transference to humans.

While conventional methods to detect ABR on farms involve microbiological analysis, this is slow, expensive and difficult to automate. Dr Dottorini’s spearheading methods challenge this approach by performing whole genome sequencing and metagenomics, combined with machine learning on large biological samples collected from multiple sources of ABR, including animals, carcasses, water, the environment and humans. Key to her approach is understanding antibiotic resistance as a consequence of the interconnectedness of complex environments. Leaving no stone unturned, Dr Dottorini and her team cover the broadest possible range of potential sources of ABR, hotspots and transmission routes. This data-driven approach has developed cutting-edge computer methods to perform data mining and has successfully identified new potentially relevant genes, unravelling clues to pinpoint sources, drivers, and hotspots of ABR in livestock production.

The aim is to develop more effective monitoring solutions, ones that are automated and running in the cloud, limiting the need for microbiological analysis and catching ABR outbreaks more quickly – an early warning system for producers. FARMWATCH is a collaborative project, drawing on government partners, the National Chinese Centre for Food Safety and Risk Assessment, and industry including New Hope Liuhe Ltd, and Nimrod Veterinary Products.

Dr Dottorini’s new role, as Director of the Centre for Smart Food for Health, will allow her to continue this important work, and further develop stronger ties between academic, industrial and government partners in the UK and China. The new Centre will launch a series of research initiatives aimed at developing sustainable, healthy, nutritious and safe food. Tania will also be Head of the new Ningbo-Nottingham joint lab, focused on ‘Big data and AI early warning solutions for a healthy food supply’. New opportunities for PhDs and postdoctoral research fellows will be available. Please contact Dr Dottorini if you are interested in joining her team.

The latest paper for Dr Dottorini and her team was published in ISME last month: Dissecting microbial communities and resistomes for interconnected humans, livestock and soil.

[1] This project is funded by Innovate UK-MoST

Follow Dr Dottorini on Twitter: @DottoriniResLab

Posted in Food Research