Halting Environmental Antimicrobial Resistance Dissemination

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation, Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE)

Collaborators: Peter Vikesland, Amy Pruden, and Marc Edwards (Virginia Tech); Pedro Alvarez, Qilin Li (Rice University); Krista Wigginton (UM)

Global access to clean, disease-free water is a prerequisite for sustainable development. Mounting population pressure requires expanded water reuse, which tightens linkages between wastewater and drinking water. Studies have revealed that the rich microbial communities used in wastewater treatment plants [WWTPs] serve as a reservoir for antimicrobial resistance – one of the greatest human health challenges of our time. Wastewater effluent and sludge discharges are often enriched in antimicrobial drugs, antimicrobial resistance elements [i.e., genes conferring resistance and its transfer to other organisms], and resistant organisms and these constituents contaminate receiving environments. Wastewater treatment therefore stands as a key node for either mitigation or dissemination of resistance through the environment.

Our overall goals are to: 1) quantify how societal uses of antimicrobial drugs and wastewater treatment processes collectively affect the fluxes of antimicrobial drugs, antimicrobial resistant organisms, and antimicrobial resistance elements across a global transect of WWTPs, 2) determine how receiving environment characteristics and WWTP treatment practices synergistically affect resistance dissemination, and 3) develop and test novel approaches to mitigate wastewater-mediated dissemination of antimicrobial resistance.

The Specific Objectives of the Aga lab in this HEARD PIRE project are to:

  1. Develop and validate analytical methods to quantify different groups of drugs in surface and wastewater samples;
  2. Quantify the levels of antimicrobial drugs (macrolides, sulfonamides, and tetracyclines) and metals in surface water and wastewater treatment effluents across a global transect of WWTPs from the US, China, India, Philippines, Switzerland, Portugal, and Sweden
  3. Assess the removal and transformations of antimicrobial drugs and identify persistent metabolites as the undergoe treatment, and determine which treatment process is best in removing these contaminants from wastewater.