Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Category: CASE Studentships

Antimicrobial resistance in captive animals: understanding the potential for environmental persistence, and transfer to other species.

Project No. 2478


Primary Supervisor

Dr Sandra Wilks – University of Southampton


Dr Judith Lock – University of Southampton

Dr Philip Riordan – Marwell Wildlife (CASE Partner)


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the ongoing threat from infectious diseases are major global challenges and link directly to issues around global public health, climate change, and food security.

There has been much research and development of initiatives around antimicrobial stewardship in healthcare and, taking a One Health approach, the links to intensive farming practices and domesticated livestock management. However, there is little research on the impact of captive bred zoo animals and their impact on the enclosure environment, the natural environment, wild populations, and on farmed livestock (Rodrigues da Costa and Diana, 2022).

We will apply methods developed for healthcare facilities to track AMR development in a captive bred population of key priority species. These animals are released close to populations of farmed livestock and this project would link to an ongoing study to investigate disease transference between these groups.

The three main aims are:

Aim 1: Understanding the microbiome and AMR profiles of the microbial community in selected individuals housed at Marwell. Using a combination of phenotypic and genotypic techniques, the resident gut microbial community will be analysed and tracked against animal husbandry records, including health status, use of antibiotics, nutrition.

Aim 2: It is important to understand transfer to the environment and potential reservoirs of resistance genes in environmental species. Following a protocol used for studies in healthcare and on public transport, select points in the animal enclosure will be selected and swabbed in a longitudinal study to understand microbial diversity and resistance profiles over time.

Aim 3: Following from aims 1 and 2, microbiome analysis will be undertaken of individuals across key species groups within Marwell Wildlife. This would inform on the potential of transference to native wildlife and livestock. This project will increase understanding in this poorly researched area, which has implications for local food security and our knowledge of AMR development.