The bacteriology of moose, deer and bank voles is not a topic often mentioned in the pages of HSJ. When I tell you that a study from rural Finland reported in Nature (4 January) has shown that gut bacteria from the faeces of all three species are almost completely devoid of antibiotic resistance you may feel. . . well, so what?
This unusual study was prompted by a previous report, also in Nature, about antibiotic resistance among another group of animals: rodents living in north-west England. As wild rodents are not commonly found queuing for a prescription at the local vet, the authors were slightly surprised to find the rodents' bacteria stuffed full of antibiotic-resistant genes. The finding prompted some questioning of the conventional view that widespread antibiotic resistance in humans is solely a consequence of our overenthusiastic use of these drugs.
As the authors of the new report point out, the issue is important because 'if resistance increases independently of antibiotic use, restrictive policies (on prescribing) would be unnecessary'.
Eager to crush any excuse for such laxity, the Finnish researchers set out to study the bacteria in a truly wild population of animals. Hence the researchers' choice of moose, deer and voles in parts of rural Finland where the human population is thinner on the ground than in north-west England, and the agricultural use of antibiotics negligible.
Unlike the English rodents, these animals can never have encountered antibiotics - and their gut bugs are completely free of resistance.
In other words, the finger of blame for resistance among our own microbes should stay firmly where It is already pointing: at those who overuse them.
So, no wavering, please: policies to constrain profligate antibiotic prescribing are still on the agenda.