Health Our estuaries could be breeding superbugs

Our estuaries could be breeding superbugs

Pollution with antibiotics is causing potentially dangerous changes to local bacteria in estuaries, according to a new study.

An international group of researchers, including Professor Michael Gillings from Macquarie University, has detected antibiotic resistance genes in almost every bacteria cell found in estuaries along the coastline of China.

These antibiotic resistance genes have the potential to enter our food chain, and spread into large numbers of people, when estuary animals such as crabs, prawns, fish and shellfish end up on our dinner plates.

“We detected over 200 different resistance genes in total, meaning that we’re dealing with quite a variety of antibiotic resistance genes that could help estuary bacteria along the path to becoming superbugs,” explained Professor Gillings.

“This tells us that antibiotic resistance genes are now common in bacteria in estuaries –China’s estuaries are just a microcosm of a worldwide problem,” said Professor Gillings.

He said that Australian estuarine areas – regions where land, freshwater and seawater meet, such as Port Stephens, Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury River – could be contributing to the development of superbugs by helping local bacteria acquire genes for antibiotic resistance.

“They all have significant sources of microbial contamination and pollution, particularly following rainfall,’ Professor Gillings said.

“These regions are places where bacteria and polluting antibiotics can meet, promoting the accumulation of antibiotic resistance genes.”

Read more about this study’s disturbing findings here. Story credit: Macquarie University newsroom.

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