JUL 15, 2020 2:37 PM PDT

City Bird Droppings Carry Antibiotic Resistant Genes

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Bird droppings are unsightly and often inconvenient, depending on where they land. They also carry some health risks, and new research from Rice University unveiled more threats associated with droppings from our feathered friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance is one of these risks.

Environmental engineers from Rice University led the study, and it was published last week in Environmental Pollution. According to an article from Rice University regarding the research, prior studies determined that antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) and bacteria (ARBs) from birds “can be transferred to humans through swimming, contact with feces, or impacted soil or inhalation of aerosolized fecal particles.” The article states that this particular study aimed to “quantify the abundance, diversity, and seasonal persistence of ARGs.”

To achieve this goal, the researchers compared samples species found around Houston during winter and summer to samples from poultry and livestock. According to the article from Rice University, the results showed that the ARGs in all species “encoded significant resistance to tetracycline, beta-lactam, and sulfonamide antibiotics.” The report also states that the team was surprised by the high levels of ARGs compared to those of poultry that are occasionally fed antibiotics. Additionally, the article reports that intl1 was five times more abundant in wild birds than farm animals.

Pedro Alvarez, co-author and environmental engineer, told Rice University reporters, “our results indicate that wild birds are an overlooked but potentially important reservoir of antimicrobial resistance genes.” He does clarify that because of the low frequency of human contact, while the transmission is possible, it is improbable.

The study examined crows, ducks, and gulls. The Rice University article reports that of these species, crows showed significantly lower levels of ARGs during the summer. Rice graduate student Ruonan Sun attributes this to their ecological niche, foraging patterns, and gut microbiome. In all the feces of three species, the researchers discovered “opportunistic pathogens,” such as those responsible for urinary tract and respiratory infections, as well as bacteria known to cause food poisoning in winter samples. They report that winter feces, in general, had higher levels of “bad bacteria,” likely caused by lower sunlight, differences in moisture levels, and temperature.

Pingfeng Yu, postdoctoral research associate and lead author, told Rice reporters that this study will help raise awareness about the threat of urban bird droppings and that regular cleanings should help mitigate serious risks.

Sources: Rice University, Environmental Pollution

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
DEC 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Using Tomatoes to Produce a Parkinson's Drug
DEC 17, 2020
Using Tomatoes to Produce a Parkinson's Drug
More and more people are being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease as the world's population ages. Scientists have now en ...
DEC 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Molecular Mechanism Behind Ketamine for Depression Discovered
DEC 17, 2020
Molecular Mechanism Behind Ketamine for Depression Discovered
Over 30% of people with major depressive disorder are resistant to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's), the curre ...
DEC 24, 2020
Cardiology
The Detrimental Health Impact of Ultra-Processed Foods
DEC 24, 2020
The Detrimental Health Impact of Ultra-Processed Foods
Prepared and highly processed foods have become very common, and they've been linked to negative health effects like obe ...
JAN 09, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Use Does not Increase Risk of Heart Disease
JAN 09, 2021
Cannabis Use Does not Increase Risk of Heart Disease
Previous studies on how cannabis affects cardiovascular health have delivered mixed results. Now, from a study of over 5 ...
JAN 11, 2021
Neuroscience
Religion Promotes Psychology-backed Methods to Manage Distress
JAN 11, 2021
Religion Promotes Psychology-backed Methods to Manage Distress
Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found that psychologists recommend similar mechanisms ...
JAN 13, 2021
Plants & Animals
San Diego Zoo's Gorillas Positive for COVID-19
JAN 13, 2021
San Diego Zoo's Gorillas Positive for COVID-19
Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that several gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park tested positive ...
Loading Comments...