Antibiotic pollution of waterways may create superbugs of tomorrow

August 6, 2015, Macquarie University

A team from Macquarie University has proved for the first time that even low concentrations of antibiotics are polluting waterways, according to a study published today in Frontiers in Microbiology.

Using low, realistic concentrations of antibiotics that might be found in , the team showed a series of worrying effects on both environmental and clinical bacteria, including rearrangements of the bacterial DNA, changes in the colonies that the bacteria form, and most importantly, the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains.

"Because humans release enormous quantities of antibiotics into the environment from homes, hospitals and farms, it is likely that many bacteria in our natural environment are becoming antibiotic resistant," said Professor Michael Gillings, co-author of the paper. "These newly resistant strains may become the superbugs of tomorrow, meaning they are immune to all current antibiotics."

Pollution comes from a variety of sources, including from antibiotics used during animal production, as well as from spreading manure on crop land or using sewage as fertiliser. Humans contribute too, as up to 80 percent of an antibiotic dose passes straight through the body and into waterways.

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States have identified as a high priority for research. Resistance can be prevented by using antibiotics wisely, by not dumping unused antibiotics in drains or toilets, and by improving .

"The consequences of this pollution are potentially very serious," Professor Gillings said. "Even very low antibiotic concentrations have significant biological and evolutionary effects. Australia has stringent regulations on the use of in farm animals, but this cannot be said of elsewhere in the world and in the modern age of rapid transport, a superbug in the United States, China or India will inevitably make its way to Australian shores."

Explore further: How antibiotic pollution of waterways creates superbugs

More information: "Potential impacts of aquatic pollutants: sub-clinical antibiotic concentrations induce genome changes and promote antibiotic resistance." Front. Microbiol., 05 August 2015 |

Related Stories

How antibiotic pollution of waterways creates superbugs

March 12, 2015

Humans pollute the world with many chemicals and some of these affect living things, even at very low concentrations. Endocrine-disrupting compounds, which interfere with hormones, are a good example, but recently more concern ...

Antibiotic resistance spreading to wildlife

July 28, 2015

Researchers have found antibiotic resistance genes are spreading to bacteria of Australian wildlife, including captive sea lions and rock wallabies, and the little penguins of Sydney Harbour.

New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van ...

Recommended for you

Understanding how to control 'jumping' genes

June 22, 2018

A team of Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Research scientists have made a new discovery of how a single protein, Serrate, plays dual roles in controlling jumping genes.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2015
But we gotta save a few cents by making our livestock fatter with them
5 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2015
This is exactly why I refuse to use all these fancy anti-bacterial soaps, toothpaste and other household cleaning agents. Of course even normal cleaning agents are anti-bacterial in their action so even they might contribute to bacterial resistance.

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.