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Natural systems as reservoirs of antibiotic resistance: spatial and temporal patterns as demonstrated by the Greater Flamingo

Eileen DiskinEileen Diskin

Supervisor: Dr Alison Donnelly
Co-supervisor: Professor David Taylor

Antibiotic resistance is widely recognized as an increasingly severe threat to human health. Initially seen as a problem limited to humans and the urban environment, more recently, evidence has indicated the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria into natural environments. A range of wildlife sentinels including sharks, baboons, penguins, moose, and seals have been used to support such claims. Most of this research, however, has relied on single-site approaches; this has limited the potential for comparative analyses over a wide geographic range. As a result, there remains a lot still to discover about potential sources and mechanisms driving the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in natural environments.
My research is focused on extending our knowledge of antibiotic resistance in natural environments by evaluating the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in wild Greater Flamingos within its Western Mediterranean metapopulation. By taking samples from a large number of flamingos at a network of five sites across a large geographic range, I am able to 1) assess the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in European wetlands, 2) compare sites and evaluate the landscape and land-use factors which drive the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, 3) evaluate the effectiveness of previous legislation which has restricted the use of antibiotics in farming practices and 4) use this information to guide future environmental and conservation policies.
I have developed my research project under the ‘One Health’ framework, and as such, I am hopeful that the outcomes of it will have impacts not only with regards to wildlife and ecosystem health, but also to human health – given the potential for transmission of resistance back to human populations.


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Last updated 7 March 2011