Antibiotics accelerate growth at the expense of immunity

Proc Biol Sci. 2021 Oct 27;288(1961):20211819. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1819. Epub 2021 Oct 20.

Abstract

Antibiotics have long been used in the raising of animals for agricultural, industrial or laboratory use. The use of subtherapeutic doses in diets of terrestrial and aquatic animals to promote growth is common and highly debated. Despite their vast application in animal husbandry, knowledge about the mechanisms behind growth promotion is minimal, particularly at the molecular level. Evidence from evolutionary research shows that immunocompetence is resource-limited, and hence expected to trade off with other resource-demanding processes, such as growth. Here, we ask if accelerated growth caused by antibiotics can be explained by genome-wide trade-offs between growth and costly immunocompetence. We explored this idea by injecting broad-spectrum antibiotics into wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis) larvae during development. We follow several life-history traits and analyse gene expression (RNA-seq) and bacterial (r16S) profiles. Moths treated with antibiotics show a substantial depletion of bacterial taxa, faster growth rate, a significant downregulation of genes involved in immunity and significant upregulation of growth-related genes. These results suggest that the presence of antibiotics may aid in up-keeping the immune system. Hence, by reducing the resource load of this costly process, bodily resources may be reallocated to other key processes such as growth.

Keywords: antibiotics; growth promotion; immunity trade-off; microbiome.