Researchers at Colorado State University are rolling out a series of projects to track antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the livestock industry, in an attempt to determine whether farm practices are fueling the rise of "superbugs."

Using a $2.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the scientists will focus on the DNA of these bacteria to help identify and trace back where such organisms become drug-resistant.

Scientists and government regulators have grown increasingly concerned that the widespread use of antibiotics given to livestock on farms may be a factor in the rise of "superbugs" – bacteria that grow resistant to drugs, infect humans and defy conventional medicines.

"We're trying to answer the question, 'Are agricultural production systems truly affecting human health by increasing antimicrobial resistance?'" said veterinarian Paul Morley, a professor of epidemiology and infection control at Colorado State University, Fort Collins.

Using DNA sequencing technology, Morley and Keith Belk, professor in the school's Center for Meat Safety and Quality, and others plan to trace the specific genes that cause resistance in bacteria. That, in turn, will help them uncover sources and ways such "superbugs" travel between animal and human, said Morley, one of the lead researchers in the project.

The seven research projects will focus mostly on beef and dairy operations, though some of the research will be conducted on hog and poultry farms. The projects are expected to begin in the coming weeks, Morley said.