Antibiotic contamination a threat to humans and the environment

Oct 15, 2012

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, spend August in Sisimiut on the west coast of Greenland studying the prevalence of antibiotic resistance and the effects of antibiotic emissions on communities of bacteria living in marine sediments. More specifically, they were investigating how communities of bacteria in sediment and clay on the seabed are affected by exposure to antibiotics.

"We know very little about what happens to antibiotics that end up in the ocean, but several substances can accumulate in sediments where biodegradation occurs extremely slowly," says researcher Maria Granberg.

More than 10,000 tonnes of antibiotics are consumed in Europe each year, and 30-60% pass through animals and humans completely unchanged. The different substances then reach the ocean via hospitals, municipal sewage, fish farms and run-off from agriculture and .

The research group from the University of Gothenburg are focusing on the potential effects of accumulating antibiotics in the .

"Our aim is to document the sea's natural microbial structure and function as well as resistance patterns, so that we can determine if and in what way things change as a result of human activity," says Maria Granberg.

Greenland is home not only to areas of very clean water, the like of which just does not exist in Sweden, but also highly . As such, it is an excellent location for studying environmental impacts.

"Greenland has no whatsoever, which means that waste water from inhabited areas is discharged straight into the sea," says Maria Granberg. "So Greenland is home to both very clean and very polluted waters, which is great for comparing environmentally pristine areas with polluted ones."

The soft sediments on the seabed act as a reservoir for hard-to-break-down substances that are released into the environment. Even substances that are not discharged directly into the sea gradually find their way there from the land and air via . This means that antibiotics can affect marine sediment ecosystems over a long period, with detrimental effects on natural marine communities of bacteria, among other things.

"The presence of antibiotics in the marine environment is worrying as it can result in widespread resistance to antibiotics in marine bacteria with unknown consequences for the spread of resistance genes to bacteria that can reach humans through the consumption of seafood and fish."

The marine sediment bacteria being studied are also important from a global perspective as they metabolise both nitrogen and carbon, which are linked to both eutrophication and climate problems. A key aspect is also that resistance genes can be transferred between bacteria.

"We know very little about how antibiotics affect natural systems and how develops and spreads in these systems," says Maria Granberg. "This knowledge is, however, vital if we are to identify the sources of, and understand, the mechanisms behind the development of antibiotic resistance, which constitutes a threat to both the functioning of ecosystems and human health."

Explore further: FACT CHECK: Both sides in Keystone XL debate bend facts

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Newly discovered reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes

Oct 21, 2011

Waters polluted by the ordure of pigs, poultry, or cattle represent a reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes, both known and potentially novel. These resistance genes can be spread among different bacterial species by bacteriophage, ...

Small amounts of antibiotics generate big problems

Jul 22, 2011

New research conducted at Uppsala University shows that extremely low concentrations of antibiotics can enrich for antibiotic resistant bacteria. The research suggests that antibiotic residue introduced to the environment ...

Recommended for you

FACT CHECK: Both sides in Keystone XL debate bend facts

8 hours ago

Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf, say the privately funded, $8 billion project is a critically needed piece of infrastructure that will create thousands of jobs ...

Sao Paulo warns of severe water rationing

10 hours ago

Authorities in Sao Paulo, Brazil's richest state and economic hub, have warned they are considering severe water rationing if the country's worst drought in 80 years continues.

Refineries challenge EPA plan to cut emissions

13 hours ago

A rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that aims to curb emissions from oil refineries and petrochemical manufacturers is causing tensions to flare between the agency and industry groups. The agency is reviewing ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tangent2
1 / 5 (1) Oct 15, 2012
"We know very little about how antibiotics affect natural systems and how antibiotic resistance develops and spreads in these systems,"


Isn't that part of the criteria for approving a new product for market consumption? Environmental impact should be the 2nd thing looked at, right after human/animal health impact. Where was the environmental study for antibiotics?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.