Antimicrobial resistance refers to the development of bacterial strains, which are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, often called superbugs. The issue is well known, and well studied, in humans and livestock and is caused by an overuse of antibiotics in those populations.
Bacteria are notoriously hardy, and capable of evolving at much faster rates that multicellular life, which means they can adapt to antibiotics quite quickly. The problem is that the bacteria have too many opportunities to interact with the antibiotics, and thus develop defenses against them specifically.
According to a new research, while we do study the issue a lot, we don’t study the issue much as it pertains to wildlife. We have a handle on the dangers of antimicrobial resistance in humans or cows, but we know next to nothing about the same issue among deer, birds, fish, or other wildlife. The study found that only 210 other studies had addressed the issue, and so the researchers behind it are recommending that we engage in a great deal more research on the subject.
The threat they see is that the eradication of certain strains in human and livestock populations might not reflect the bacterial growth in the wild, where animals can continue to spread that bacteria, which could in turn lead it back to humans.
The root of the issue is in the contamination of water supplies, the principle way in which these bacteria spread, which is caused chiefly by water treatment systems not doing a good enough job of removing antibiotics and other contaminants from treated water.
The other issue is that we haven’t adopted a One Health model for this problem. The idea behind the One Health model argues that all organisms are interconnected and that the health of humans, animals, or ecosystems more generally, can impact each other. That model has helped to fight back against some viruses, but hasn’t been yet adapted to the study of antimicrobial resistance.