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Got some puppy poo? Donate it to science!

Foul smelling and a blight on British streets, but dog poo - specifically puppy poo - could contain answers in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Bristol are hoping to collect samples from puppies in the south west so that they can be monitored for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to both human and animal health worldwide has become increasingly prevalent, with an estimated 700,000 people dying from resistant infections every year.

All mammals carry large numbers of bacteria in their gut, which are released in faeces. Some of these faecal bacteria may then cause 'opportunistic infections' in surgical wounds or in the urinary tract. Gut bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics may then result in difficult to treat infections, which are common in people and sometimes found in pets. 

The One Health Selection and Transmission of Antimicrobial Resistance (OH-STAR) project team at the University of Bristol is investigating how antibiotic-resistant E. coli – a very common gut bacterium that causes opportunistic infections – might move between the environment, animals, and humans. The researchers want to find out if antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals are an important source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people, and from where animals get their antibiotic-resistant gut bacteria.

For the study, the team is collecting and analysing faecal samples from young puppies aged under 12 weeks which are not being walked in public places, and comparing these to samples from the same puppy a month or two later when they have started going outside for walks. They are particularly interested in how the places puppies are walked might influence the levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria in their guts. 

The researchers are asking puppy owners from north Somerset, Bristol, Bath and north-east Somerset, and surrounding areas to take part in the study by completing a questionnaire and providing two faecal samples from their puppy.

Dr Matthew Avison, Reader in Molecular Bacteriology in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine who is leading the OH-STAR project, said, "Puppies might get their gut bacteria from their mothers, from the environment in which they are exercised, from other pets in the household, or from their owners. It may well be a combination of all these. We want to identify the importance of the environment as a source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, because dogs might be bringing these bacteria into the home. At the moment, we just don’t know."

Kezia Wareham, a Masters student from the Bristol Veterinary School who is focussing on the puppy part of OH-STAR and is keen to recruit as many puppies as possible, added, "We are excited to be able to work directly with puppy owners to help answer these important questions. If you have a young puppy and would be able to provide us with some poo, please do get in touch."

If you may be able to help, contact the OH-STAR team for more information.