SCIENTISTS at the University of York used an artificial bird to investigate how commonly-prescribed pharmaceuticals behave in the guts of starlings.

The team developed an in-vitro model - a laboratory-based system that avoids animal testing - to simulate a starling's digestive system, recreating gastro-intestinal conditions that appear in real birds.

Researchers from the university’s Environment Department fed worms containing fluoxetine - the active ingredient in antidepressant product Prozac - fed to the in-vitro system.

This simulated birds feeding on worms and other invertebrates that have accumulated pharmaceuticals from wastewater treatment plants and soils.

Such contamination happens when sewage sludge is applied to land as a fertiliser.

The researchers found that the drug behaved similarly in both the bird and human systems. Such results are invaluable in understanding how to use data detailing the effects of pharmaceuticals in humans, applying this across to wildlife species.

PhD student Tom Bean was the lead author of the project alongside Professor Alistair Boxall and Dr Kathryn Arnold.

He said: “This study characterises the environmental impact that pharmaceuticals can have, paving the way for intelligence-led assessment in the development of new drugs.”