Captive wallabies could spread antibiotic resistance into the wild

In Australia, people have raised endangered wallabies in captivity and released the animals to boost wild populations. But a new study in PLOS ONE has identified a hitch in this plan: The captive animals often carry bacteria with genes for antibiotic resistance, which could spread to wild wallabies as well.

The researchers collected the fecal pellets of wild and captive brush-tailed rock-wallabies in New South Wales, Australia. Then the team analyzed DNA isolated from 94 of the samples. About half of the captive wallaby samples contained antibiotic-resistance genes, while none of the samples from wild animals did.

The study authors aren’t sure how the captive wallabies acquired the genes, but they suspect they came from bacteria in their food or water. For example, the springs that supply the animals’ water might have become contaminated. These bacteria could “be unwittingly spread to other populations and other species,” the team writes. — Roberta Kwok | 23 May 2013

Source: Power, M.L., S. Emery, and M.R. Gillings. 2013. Into the wild: Dissemination of antibiotic resistance determinants via a species recovery program. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063017.

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