Monitoring antibiotic resistance in the natural environment: What does the fox's bacteria say?

By: Mattias Szczesny

This month our webinar ventured into the forests and mountains as we got to look into intriguing research involving Portuguese wildlife, presented by Dr. Tania Caetano. 

Dr. Caetano and her team have been researching antibiotic resistance in animals living in environments that we would not usually expect when thinking about antibiotic resistance. With pleasantly drawn visual representations we got to visit some of our furry friends, specifically the wild boar, red deer, red fox, and European otters. These animals were chosen because of their different levels of shyness, preferred habitat, and diet, which made for some quite interesting findings.

Following the presentation on the wildlife research, we moved from the forests to the rivers with CEO Windi Muziasari showing very interesting visualisations comparing the presence and abundance of antibiotic resistance genes in different zones as we follow a river from its source, all the way to the sea. Key takeaways from the webinar:

1. One Health

Early in the webinar, we got to hear about the connection between humans, animals, and environments and how they are all interdependent for the health of our planet. This holistic thinking is what we generally call the One Health approach. 

When it comes to antibiotic resistance, the scientific studies have been largely conducted within clinical settings, with only a relatively small amount of instances also coming from livestock. However, from the One Health perspective, wildlife is also interconnected in this fight and should be included.

Wildlife does not only affect antibiotic resistance as far as natural ecosystems are involved, but also livestock and humans in direct and indirect ways. This is one of the reasons why studies on antibiotic resistance in natural environments and wildlife have been on a steady increase over the last 10 years.

2. Wildlife’s own brave frontier

We humans are not alone in being curious and exploring! Some wild animals are very adaptable and as they get familiar with our presence they like to venture into our farmlands or towns in search of food, sometimes even finding it in our litter.

As we saw in the Portuguese wildlife, species that are expanding their habitat closer to ours such as the wild boar and species that are curious like the red fox do have a higher abundance of bacteria with antibiotic resistance genes present. Another curious observation is that the antibiotic resistance genes that the two mentioned species had in common were also found in the more shy species. Still, the red fox has the highest number of “exclusive” antibiotic resistance genes present.

An interesting discussion was brought up regarding animals naturally not caring about tourists visas when crossing our human borders, and this is a very interesting idea to further discuss and investigate as animal migration could have an effect on spreading the resistance genes in the natural environments.

3. Antibiotic resistance is everywhere

Antibiotic resistance genes have been in the environments for millions of years and will continue to be whether we like it or not. They are present in our planet’s rivers, lakes, seas, and also in forests and mountains. Even inside of very shy animals such as the red deer that live relatively isolated from human activity can antibiotic resistance genes be found. 

The idea is not to stop antibiotic resistance but to understand it, and mitigate the impact we potentially have so that our antibiotics and healthcare can remain effective in the future. This is why monitoring and researching what is going on with antibiotic resistance in all environments is so important. 

If you would like to review the webinar discussed here for yourself, a recording is available here!

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