Rivers and antibiotic resistance: Is there a connection?

Rivers and antibiotic resistance: Is there a connection?

Rivers may be part of the antibiotic resistance epidemic.

University of Warwick School of Life Sciences and University of Exeter Medical School scientists made this discovery while studying the Thames River.

The research team found that large amounts of resistant bacteria live nearby to waste water treatment centers. These facilities are believed to be responsible for at least half of this increase.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest threats to human health, the researchers note. Significant amounts of antibiotics find their way into the environment with human and agricultural use. Antibiotics from fertilizers and animal waste on farms are washed into rivers after heavy rain.

Antibiotic resistance naturally occurs in the environment, but we don’t yet know how human and agricultural waste is affecting its development, explains Professor Elizabeth Wellington of the University of Warwick, co-lead authors of the study. “We’ve found that waste water discharges effect resistance levels and that improvements in our treatment processes could hold the key to reducing the prevalence of resistant bacteria in the environment.”

We found antibiotic resistance in the group Enterobacteriaceae which includes gut bacteria and pathogens,” she added.

The study also shows that different water waste treatment centers release many different types of resistant bacteria. “We produced a model based on our data, which showed that there was a big difference between secondary and tertiary activated sludge plant where the latter resulted in a predicted 100-fold decrease in resistance levels,” Wellington explained.

The other co-lead author, Dr. William Gaze of the University of Exeter Medical School said: “Our research has shed further light on links between environmental pollutants and antibiotic resistance. It has allowed us to uncover an association between a number of compounds — such as zinc, phosphorus and silicon — and antibiotic resistance. We think those bacteria that have developed to survive in environments rich in metals may also possess antibiotic resistance mechanisms — highlighting the complexity of this global issue.”

The research team analyzed water and sediment samples from 13 different facilities along the Thames River, and created a model to predict the distribution of resistant bacteria.

The scientists also discovered differences caused by factors such as land cover and rainfall. They found that heavy rainfall in grassy areas increased resistance, whereas heavy rainfall in woodland areas decreased resistance.

Higher levels of antibiotics in water could pose a threat to human health. Further studies are needed to determine the health implications of this increase in resistant bacteria.

The study showing the link between rivers and rivers and antibiotic resistance was published in the ISME Journal.

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1. “Thames Study: Rivers Can Be a Source Antibiotic Resistance.” University of Warwick. University of Warwick, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.
2. “Validated Predictive Modelling of the Environmental Resistome.” Nature.com. The ISME Journal, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

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