Rock Wallaby (imagine the B52s singing it)

Ok this post is really just an excuse to include the cutest picture of all time. But there is a serious reason why the photo came my way.

Brush-tail rock wallabies are endangered in NSW, and considered “near endangered” nationally, so there is a breeding program to save them. The program has succeeded partly by fostering out joeys to tamar wallabies so the mothers can get round to breeding more often, which is pretty cute in itself I’d say.

However, a study by Dr Michelle Power at Macquarie University found that 48% of faecal samples from the captive-bred wallabies contain antibiotic resistant bacteria. It’s zero percent for wild wallabies. We don’t quite know how the wallabies picked up these bugs, but clearly being too close to humans or livestock is not great for them.

In the direct sense this is not a serious problem. These wallabies will soon be hoping wild (indeed some already are). Perhaps if a wild wallaby gets injured in a bushfire and is lucky enough to be rescued a resistance to antibiotics could be an issue, but for most of them it is hardly going to matter. Indeed, it may well be that once the selection pressure of regular exposure to antibiotics is removed the resistance will prove a drag on the survival prospects of the gut bacteria and will slowly disappear.

Nevertheless, it is a testimony to the dangers of overuse of antibiotics that these animals, which have never been directly exposed to these drugs, have acquired resistant bacteria. This probably occurred through the regular swapping of genes that occurs between bacteria. There’s a danger this could continue in the wild, to the point where one day a human gets infected with a zoonotic species that has acquired resistance in the wild along with some particularly deadly characteristics, making it very hard to treat.

Power says there is probably nothing we can do to prevent this happening, other than use antibiotics more wisely – which we should be doing for lots of other reasons. However, she does think this is something worth monitoring. It’s not a reason to stop the captive breeding program since we don’t know if the bacteria will even transfer to the wild animals, and if they do the chances of harm appear to be minimal.

 

A wild brush-tail rock wallaby greats a newly released captive bred member of the same species. The captive-bred wallaby is wearing a radio collar, but the wild wallaby isn't too cool to say hi to the new arrival. The brightly coloured bit below refers to the antibiotic resistant bacteria the captive-bred wallaby has a 50% chance of carrying

A wild brush-tail rock wallaby greats a newly released captive bred member of the same species. The captive-bred wallaby is wearing a radio collar, but the wild wallaby isn’t too cool to say hi to the new arrival. The brightly coloured bit below refers to the antibiotic resistant bacteria the captive-bred wallaby has a 50% chance of carrying

Advertisements

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
This entry was posted in Antibiotic resistance, Too cute not to post. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s