Tackling antimicrobial resistance in wildlife
By Michelle Power
Many of us feel lucky that we share our cities and homes with wildlife. But did you know we also share our bacteria? Antibiotic resistant bacteria are those that have overcome the effect of antibiotics (medicines used to treat or prevent infections) are spreading to wildlife. And although we mainly think of antibiotic resistance as a human health issue, increasing reports of resistant bacteria in our wildlife raises questions about whether these bacteria affect their health too.
Through the Scoop a Poop project, citizen scientists can now contribute to a study of antibiotic resistance in Australian wildlife, specifically possums. How? By collecting possum poop from backyards and submitting it for testing for antimicrobial resistance.
Bushcare Blue Mountains hosted a Scoop a Poop workshop on April 13, which was also Citizen Science Day. The Scoop a Poop team discussed brushtail possum ecology and their different personalities (Clare McArthur, University of Sydney) and explained how connectivity between people, wildlife and the environment we share, facilitates the spread of antibiotic
resistant bacteria (Michelle Power, Macquarie University).
Ann Tierney from WIRES talked about the important role of WIRES in
rehabilitating wildlife and the growing need for the use of antibiotics to treat the increasing number of injuries presenting in our wildlife. The workshop highlights how the local community, WIRES, Blue Mountains Council and universities are working together, and the necessity for
partnerships to address environmental issues through scientific research.
Koa Webster (Macquarie University) and the team then gave participants hands-on experience in identifying wildlife scats (using playdough models!), and in using the Scoop a Poop kit and its
smartphone app. Poop-collectors can use the app to record where they collected each poss-poop sample. Using the Scatlas app feature, they can also follow the testing process of samples, and even track their own submission. The group also discussed antibiotic stewardship – actions we can all take to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and reduce antibiotic resistance. Workshop participants then took Scoop a Poop kits to collect possum poop from their yards for testing.
Scoop a Poop’s pilot study detected antibiotic resistance genes, where we discovered bacteria resistant to some antibiotics in 27% of Possum poop samples. The team is still working out which bacteria are resistant and to what antibiotics. The Possum poop samples from the Blue Mountains will contribute to samples from other parts of NSW, Victoria and South Australia and help answer questions about geographic of resistance in wildlife.
WIRES has recently joined the Scoop a Poop project, and the Blue Mountains wildlife carers will begin to contribute possum poop samples from the many possums they care for. Michelle Power, the Scoop a Poop project leader, explains why working with WIRES is super important for working out how these resistant bacteria in possums may impact their health. “WIRES has information from the possums coming into care, which allows us to examine relationships between possum health and carriage of resistant bacteria,” says Michelle. Michelle also explains that antibiotics are important for treating injuries in wildlife, and if they have resistant bacteria already in their bacterial communities then treatments may not work. “There is really a lot we do not know about antibiotic resistant bacteria in wildlife, and understanding this is not only important for our wildlife but it is also connected to human health,” says Michelle.
You can read more about the project at the Scoop a Poop website. The Scoop a Poop team also run lessons in schools for Years 6-12 and students can also get involved in collecting possum poop samples. Continued p10. For more information: www.scoopapoop.net