A team from the University of Teramo and Majella National Park have discovered proof of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) genes in wolf habitats. In the Appenine area, researchers found the presence of tetracycline resistance gene TetA(P) in one of the two monitored packs. Tetracycline is an antibiotic drug that fights diseases caused by bacteria. The results confirm that the ecological context in which wildlife currently lives can provide relevant information about the environmental pathways by which antimicrobial resistance may be acquired and dispersed.
Sources of the AMR gene
In 2017, scientists used GPS tracking devices to follow two packs of wolves in and around Majella National Park, Italy. One pack lived entirely inside the National Park area, while the other pack had a larger home range that included areas outside the park. This larger range included villages and areas of human infrastructure. When analysing the scat of each pack, scientists only found the AMR gene in the pack with a home range that included areas outside the National Park.
Experts have previously found sources of this AMR gene in the livestock farming industry. AMR usually gets into the environment through the widespread use of antibiotics in intensive meat production industry. This anthropogenic contamination eventually makes its way into the environment via soil and water systems.
The study’s authors believe predation activity from the wolf was not the source of this AMR gene. Instead, an explanation for the presence of this gene appears to be from the greater human pressures of their home range. The pack, living partially in areas outside the national park, is close to human infrastructure, such as villages, pig farms, slaughterhouses and a meat processing plants. The study points out that contamination from these nearby anthropogenic sources of antibiotic use led to the presence of this gene in the wolves. These results show that greater human influence can lead to the spread of AMR genes into nature.
Consequences of AMR in the natural environment
Wildlife usually inhabits areas free of human influence and activities. As a result, they are not often exposed to contamination which contains material leading to antimicrobial resistance. However, the expansion of urban and agricultural land into fragmented wildlife habitats has unintended consequences. It has resulted in wildlife incorporating more human food sources into their diets, making them more susceptible to human inputs. The presence of antimicrobial resistant genes in the natural environment can prove dangerous to human and animal health. Consequently, such genes could lead to multi-resistant bacteria emerging, and the evolution of infectious diseases, threatening both humans and animals.
This is just another example of unsustainable land use and farming practices leading to humans contaminating the natural environment. The potential of this anthropogenically spread AMR gene could lead to catastrophic health consequences for humans and animals, leading to ecosystems, natural habitats and biodiversity being damaged. This study, using the wolf as an indicator species, shows the dangers and consequences of human activity on the environment.