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‘We can’t blame animals’: how human pathogens are making their way into vulnerable wildlife

Australian scientists have found evidence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in about a dozen species, including bats, penguins, sea lions and wallabies

For 13 years now, scientist Michelle Power has been grabbing samples of human waste and animal poop from Antarctica to Australia to try and answer a vital question.

Has the bacteria in humans that has grown resistant to antibiotics – an issue considered to be one of the world’s greatest health challenges – made its way into wildlife?

Associate professor Michelle Power from Macquarie University Department of Biological Science.

Related: Human impact on wildlife to blame for spread of viruses, says study

Penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Researcher Ida Lundback, right, with the assistance of volunteer Naomi Wells, left, takes a faecal sample from a captured little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) before returning it back to its burrow.

Clockwise from top: An urban brush-tailed possum, a female grey-headed flying fox and an Australian sea lion.

A faecal sample from Australian sea lions (Neophoca cinerea) that has been plated on Chromocult media – a selective differential media that makes E coli visible by showing it as dark purple.

Michelle Power with a culture of E.coli taken from faecal samples from Antarctic marine life (Weddell seal – Leptonychotes weddellii).

Related: ‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

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