Photo via zyphbear via Flickr CC
Researchers went all the way up to the Arctic to study the droppings of polar bears who have little to no contact with humans in order to find out if the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs among animals are the result of human influence. It seems like this might have been just a handy excuse to get an awesome trip to the Arctic, since only a tiny leap of logic would tell us that yes, antibiotic-resistant superbugs are the result of contact with human-made antibiotics. Turns out, the researchers found out some great news...for polar bears. Finally, one way in which humans are NOT impacting polar bear health. The researchers found very little evidence that the superbug microbes are in polar bears. This helps to prove that the the spread of antibiotic resistance genes seen in animals such as deer, foxes, dogs, cats and others with close contacts with humans is indeed influenced by that very human contact.
As reported on Eurekalert and in the journal BMC Microbiology, Trine Glad, from the University of Tromsø, Norway, and lead researcher on the study, stated, "The Barents Sea population of polar bears is located in an area that is sparsely populated by humans. This enables us to study an ecosystem with little human impact and should allow us to determine whether these genes are naturally occurring or are caused by exposure to human antibiotics."
And after studying the droppings of five bears, and rectal swabs of five more bears, between the years of 2004 and 2006, the team determined there wasn't much in the way of superbugs among polar bears with limited human contact.
It seems superbugs are created in a variety of ways, and we recently heard about common disinfectants helping to create mutant superbugs. It's a case of microbes adapting to survive as fast as we're working to kill them off. So it seems the farther away from humans and our bug-killers that animals are, the less likely they'll be impacted by these mutated, or simply evolving, superbugs.
Too bad some polar bears had to come into closer contact with humans for scientists to confirm this.