Staphylococcus aureus in Agriculture: Lessons in Evolution from a Multispecies Pathogen

Clin Microbiol Rev. 2021 Feb 10;34(2):e00182-20. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00182-20. Print 2021 Mar 17.


Staphylococcus aureus is a formidable bacterial pathogen that is responsible for infections in humans and various species of wild, companion, and agricultural animals. The ability of S. aureus to move between humans and livestock is due to specific characteristics of this bacterium as well as modern agricultural practices. Pathoadaptive clonal lineages of S. aureus have emerged and caused significant economic losses in the agricultural sector. While humans appear to be a primary reservoir for S. aureus, the continued expansion of the livestock industry, globalization, and ubiquitous use of antibiotics has increased the dissemination of pathoadaptive S. aureus in this environment. This review comprehensively summarizes the available literature on the epidemiology, pathophysiology, genomics, antibiotic resistance (ABR), and clinical manifestations of S. aureus infections in domesticated livestock. The availability of S. aureus whole-genome sequence data has provided insight into the mechanisms of host adaptation and host specificity. Several lineages of S. aureus are specifically adapted to a narrow host range on a short evolutionary time scale. However, on a longer evolutionary time scale, host-specific S. aureus has jumped the species barrier between livestock and humans in both directions several times. S. aureus illustrates how close contact between humans and animals in high-density environments can drive evolution. The use of antibiotics in agriculture also drives the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains, making the possible emergence of human-adapted ABR strains from agricultural practices concerning. Addressing the concerns of ABR S. aureus, without negatively affecting agricultural productivity, is a challenging priority.

Keywords: S. aureus; agriculture; antibiotics; evolution; reverse zoonosis; zoonosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Livestock
  • Staphylococcal Infections* / epidemiology
  • Staphylococcal Infections* / veterinary
  • Staphylococcus aureus* / genetics


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents