Antibiotic resistant genes are showing up in Antarctic penguins and some experts say its because of humanity’s impact on the planet’s environment
- Researchers findings say that antibiotic resistance has spread from humans
- Resistance genes have been found in ancient soils, far from their influence
- More evidence needed to tie presence of genetic material to human activity
- In the areas sampled the penguins were found to carry microbes in their guts
Antibiotic resistance has spread to penguins living in the Antarctic researchers have found – but conceded more evidence is needed to prove mankind is responsible.
In a broad study into birds that carry antibiotic resistance genes, scientists compared the diversity of gut microbes in penguins living around two bases.
Researchers from the University of Sydney wanted to compare birds that were carrying microbes resistant to antibiotics.
They found that penguins living in areas with higher human populations carried more antibiotic resistant genes than those in more remote areas.
Experts fear mankind is spreading the germs to these remote regions where birds provide them with fertile breeding grounds and spread them among their species.
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Researchers have found that antibiotic resistance has spread to penguins living in the Antarctic. Penguins living near the O’Higgins Base (pictured) carried more resistant genes in their bodies than those living near the less-populated Gabriel González Videla Base (file photo)
Vanessa Marcelino, who led the study, and colleagues took swabs from inside the rectums of penguins living at the sites in Antarctica.
They used RNA sequencing to reveal the diversity and expression levels of known antibiotic-resistance genes.
They found that penguins inhabiting areas near the O’Higgins Base carried more resistant genes in their bodies than those living near the less-populated Gabriel González Videla Base.
Soil is an important environmental reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), which are becoming more recognised as environmental contaminants.
Antarctic soil appeared to be a common reservoir for seven ARGs since they were present in most samples (42 per cent to 88 per cent) in a study in 2016.
It found that a total of 73 ARGs and other mobile genetic elements (MGEs) – encompassing eight major antibiotic resistance gene categories – were detected, but most at very low levels.
Experts fear mankind is spreading the germs to these remote regions where birds provide them with fertile breeding grounds and spread them among their species. More evidence is needed to conclusively prove mankind is responsible (stock image)
In the same study researchers took samples from 110 ducks and wading birds in Australia.
Birds that had the greatest diversity of antibiotic-resistance genes were those that lived in the ponds of a sewage treatment plant in Melbourne.
Ducks that fed on the surface of land or water were more likely to carry these genes than species accustomed to feeding in remote waters.
Josef Järhult at Uppsala University in Sweden said: ‘It’s a more complex measure of how diverse and big the pool of genetic resistance is,’ he says.
‘It demonstrates really nicely the inter-linkage between humans and the environment which is very often overlooked in general.’
Although Francois Balloux at University College London was sceptical about the study saying more evidence is needed to directly tie the presence of the genes to human activity in the areas sampled.
‘There’s no pristine place on Earth as far as antimicrobial resistance is concerned,’ he said.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT AND CONTROL THE SPREAD OF ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control.
Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals
Source: World Health Organisation