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Background: The global dissemination of colistin resistance encoded by mcr-1 has been attributed to extensive use of colistin in livestock, threatening colistin efficacy in medicine. The emergence of mcr-1 in common pathogens, such as Escherichia coli, is of particular concern. China banned the use of colistin in animal feed from May 1, 2017. We investigated subsequent changes in mcr-1 prevalence in animals, humans, food, and the environment, and the genomic epidemiology of mcr-1-positive E coli (MCRPEC). Methods: Sampling was done before (October to December, 2016) and after (October to December, 2017, and 2018, respectively) the colistin ban. 3675 non-duplicate pig faecal samples were collected from 14 provinces (66 farms) in China to measure intervention-related changes in mcr-1 prevalence. 15 193 samples were collected from pigs, healthy human volunteers, patients colonised or infected with Enterobacteriaceae who were admitted to hospital, food and the environment in Guangzhou, to characterise source-specific mcr-1 prevalence and the wider ecological effect of the ban. From these samples, 688 MCRPEC were analysed with whole genome sequencing, plasmid conjugation, and S1 pulsed-field gel electrophoresis with Southern blots to characterise associated genomic changes. Findings: After the ban, mcr-1 prevalence decreased significantly in national pig farms, from 308 (45%) of 684 samples in 2016 to 274 (19%) of 1416 samples in 2018 (p<0·0001). A similar decrease occurred in samples from most sources in Guangzhou (959 [19%] of 5003 samples in 2016; 238 [5%] of 4489 samples in 2018; p<0·0001). The population structure of MCRPEC was diverse (23 sequence clusters); sequence type 10 clonal complex isolates were predominant (247 [36%] of 688). MCRPEC causing infection in patients admitted to hospital were genetically more distinct and appeared less affected by the ban. mcr-1 was predominantly found on plasmids (632 [92%] of 688). Common mcr-1 plasmid types included IncX4, IncI2, and IncHI2 (502 [76%] of 656); significant increases in IncI2-associated mcr-1 and a distinct lineage of mcr-1-associated IncHI2 were observed post ban. Changes in the frequency of mcr-1-associated flanking sequences (ISApl1-negative MCRPEC), 63 core genome single nucleotide polymorphisms, and 30 accessory genes were also significantly different after the ban (Benjamini-Hochberg-adjusted p<0·05), consistent with rapid genetic adaptation in response to changing selection pressures. Interpretation: A rapid, ecosystem-wide, decline in mcr-1 was observed after the use of colistin in animal feed was banned, with associated genetic changes in MCRPEC. Withdrawal of antimicrobials from animal feed should be an important One Health measure contributing to the wider control of antimicrobial resistance globally. Funding: National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Original publication




Journal article


The Lancet Microbe

Publication Date





e34 - e43