Antibiotic-Resistant Genes Detected in Wildlife

Antibiotic-resistant genes are turning up in the guts of wild birds.

November 8, 2013

Abusing and overusing antibiotics is leading to antibiotic-resistant genes in weird places.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the pressing medical issues of our time, with some experts saying we're entering a "post-antibiotic" era.


The latest evidence of this turned up in the results of a recent study showing that drug-resistant genes are showing up even in the guts of wild animals, in the latest case, crows.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 50 percent of antibiotics dispensed to people are unneeded. The more pathogenic bacteria get exposed to antibiotics, the better the germs become at outsmarting the drugs.

But perhaps the greatest form of antibiotic abuse comes not from your doctor's office, but from nonorganic farms. According to the latest figures, the Food and Drug Administration found these farms are feeding nearly 30 million tons of antibiotics to farm animals a year—that accounts for 80 percent of antibiotic use in America!

Industrial farmers often use antibiotics not to treat sick animals, but rather to speed the animals' growth, which the drugs have been shown to do. Faster growth means the animals can be brought to market sooner.

So how does it work? Bacteria that live in animals' digestive tracts can trade genes with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, passing on the immunity to certain drugs. Then, as in the case of the recent salmonella outbreak from a chicken processing facility in California, people who ingest these resistant bacteria don't respond to the very medications meant to help treat the illness, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report on the July study.

In the latest study investigating antibiotic-resistant genes in wildlife, Tufts University researchers collected 600 crow poop samples from Massachusetts, Kansas, New York, and California. Analyzing the fecal matter, researcher found that about 2½ percent tested positive for genes resistant to vancomycin, a drug used in human and factory farm meds and one used to treat serious infections in humans like pneumonia and meningitis.

If you don't want to support dangerous farming methods that increase the levels of antibiotic-resistant bugs in our environment, support organic, a system in which antibiotic use is banned. And before you demand antibiotics from your doctors for an ailment, read Do You Really Need That Antibiotic?

Tags: antibiotics