Human misuse of antibiotics puts chimpanzees at superbug risk

Drug-resistant superbugs are tipped to kill more than 10 million people each year by 2050 – but what about our evolutionary cousin, the chimpanzee? Turns out our penchant for antibiotics means they too might be at risk.

In work presented at the One Health EcoHealth Congress in Melbourne, Australia, this week, Thomas Gillespie, a pathobiologist from Emory University in the US, suspects incorrect antibiotic use in humans, pets and livestock in Tanzania caused bacterial resistance to these vital drugs. Dr. Gillespie is a faculty member in the PBEE program.

These microbes then spread to remote populations of Gombe chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).

“Gombe has a history of infectious disease,” Gillespie says. “At some point, we may want to use antibiotics as an intervention [but] if resistance is a major issue, we need to know about that.”

Living within the narrow borders of the Gombe Stream National Park, these chimpanzees come into contact with humans, livestock and other animals living in nearby villages or research centres within the park.

To find genetic traces of antibiotic resistance, the researchers analysed the DNA in poop from 84 chimpanzees and 185 humans, as well as livestock and other animals such as pets, living in and around the area.

Click here to view the full story in Cosmos Magazine.