Antibiotic pollution of waterways may create superbugs of tomorrow

Antibiotic pollution of waterways may create superbugs of tomorrow

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."

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

Citation: Antibiotic pollution of waterways may create superbugs of tomorrow (2015, August 6) retrieved 15 June 2024 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Explore further

How antibiotic pollution of waterways creates superbugs


Feedback to editors