Spread of antibiotic resistance genes to Antarctica by migratory birds

Takahiro Segawa, Akinori Takahashi, Nobuo Kokubun, Satoshi Ishii

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent studies have highlighted the presence of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in Antarctica, which are typically indicative of human activity. However, these studies have concentrated in the Antarctic Peninsula region, and relatively less is known about ARG prevalence in East Antarctica, where human activity levels are lower compared to the Antarctic Peninsula. In addition, the mechanisms of ARG transmission to Antarctica through natural or anthropogenic pathways remain unclear. In this study, we analyzed the fecal samples of Adélie penguins and South polar skuas by using high-throughput sequencing and microfluidic quantitative PCR to detect potential pathogens and ARGs at their breeding colonies near Syowa Station in East Antarctica. These results revealed the presence of several potential pathogens in the fecal matter of both bird species. However, the HF183 marker, which indicates human fecal contamination, was absent in all samples, as well as seawater sampled near the breeding colonies. This suggests that the human fecal contamination was negligible in our study area. In addition to pathogens, we found a significant number of ARGs and metal resistance genes in the feces of both Adélie penguins and South polar skuas, with higher detection rates in skuas than in penguins. To better understand how these birds acquire and transmit these genes, we analyzed the migratory patterns of Adélie penguins and South polar skuas by geolocator tracking. We found that the skuas migrate to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Indian Ocean during the austral winter. On the other hand, Adélie penguins exhibited a more localized migration pattern, mainly staying within Antarctic waters. Because the Indian Ocean is considered one of the major reservoirs of ARGs, South polar skuas might be exposed to ARGs during their winter migration and transfer these genes to Antarctica.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number171345
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 1 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier B.V.


  • Adélie penguin
  • Antarctica
  • Anthropogenic impacts
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Pathogens
  • South polar skua

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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