The extensive use of antibiotics, especially in livestock to promote growth, has led to the evolution of bacteria that are resistant to them. The rise of these pathogens, found around the world, is a threat to us all. Now, a new study has even found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in penguins in Antarctica.
The international team of researchers have looked at the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes in the microbiome of aquatic birds. They studied animals from a wide range of habitats, including ducks living in wastewater treatment plants in Australia to penguins in Antarctica. The team found 81 antibiotic-resistant genes in birds from all localities, with the ones in wastewater treatment plants carrying the highest number.
As reported in New Scientist, the team collected samples from 110 ducks and other birds and sequenced the genome of their microbiome, looking for the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes and whether or not they were expressed in the bacteria they found.
The penguins analyzed were living near two human bases in the frozen continent: Bernardo O’Higgins Base and González Videla Base. Both bases are located in the Antarctic Peninsula and have gentoo penguins living nearby. The penguins that live near Videla base, which is less populated, carried less antibiotic-resistant genes in their microbiome than those near O’Higgins Base.
The study expresses concern that treatment plants might not be doing enough to stop antibiotics from entering the food chain. It also shines a light on the complex exchange routes between humans and wildlife, although this might only be part of the picture. Humanity has contaminated every environment on this planet, and while the focus of the study is on human activity, antibiotic resistance can happen naturally. The paper is available on the pre-print server bioRxiv and is yet to be peer-reviewed.
Antibiotic resistance is often described as one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century and considered a real and present danger. Estimates suggest that at least 23,000 people die in the US annually from antibiotic-resistant infections, and roughly 2 million people become infected over the same time period. According to reports, drug-resistant pathogens might end up killing up to 10 million people worldwide each year by the middle of the century.
[H/T: New Scientist]