Antibiotic resistance in the environment linked to fecal pollution

January 8, 2019, University of Gothenburg
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Increased levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment may have different causes. It could be a consequence of on-site selection from antibiotic residues in the environment, hence promoting the evolution of new forms of resistance. Alternatively, it is simply due contamination by fecal bacteria that often tend to be more resistant than other bacteria. Understanding which explanation is correct is fundamental to manage risks.

A study published in Nature Communications shows that crAssphage, a virus specific to bacteria in human feces, is highly correlated to the abundance of antibiotic resistance genes in . This indicates that fecal pollution can largely explain the increase in resistant bacteria often found in human-impacted environments. There was, however, one clear exception where resistance genes were very common also without the presence of the phage—environments polluted with high levels of from manufacturing.

Joakim Larsson, Professor in Environmental Pharmacology at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, and one of the co-authors, says, "These finding are important as they can inform management of human health risks associated with antibiotic resistant in the . While antibiotic residues is clearly the cause for the exceptionally high levels of resistance found near some manufacturing sites, fecal pollution is probably the explanation in most other places."

Does this mean that we do not need to care about the low levels of antibiotics released from sewage treatment plants world-wide? "The study indicates the importance of taking into account the level of fecal pollution when interpreting findings of antibiotic resistance in the environment. It implicates that one often do not need to explain such findings by on-site selection from residual antibiotics. But it does not exclude that there still is selection by low levels of antibiotics in the environment going in in parallel. Other findings still suggest that low, environmental levels of certain antibiotics could select for resistance. This needs further research," says Larsson.

Explore further: Study discovers over 6,000 antibiotic resistance genes in the bacteria that inhabit the human gut

More information: Antti Karkman et al. Fecal pollution can explain antibiotic resistance gene abundances in anthropogenically impacted environments, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07992-3

Related Stories

The hidden hazards of antibiotic resistance genes in air

July 25, 2018

People are often notified about poor air quality by weather apps, and this happens frequently in urban areas, where levels of outdoor pollution containing particulates and soot are high. But now scientists are reporting in ...

New study links common herbicides and antibiotic resistance

October 12, 2018

A new study finds that bacteria develop antibiotic resistance up to 100,000 times faster when exposed to the world's most widely used herbicides, Roundup (glyphosate) and Kamba (dicamba) and antibiotics compared to without ...

New antibiotic resistance genes found

October 16, 2017

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have found several previously unknown genes that make bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotics. The genes were found by searching ...

Recommended for you

Afromontane forests and climate change

January 17, 2019

In the world of paleoecology, little has been known about the historical record of ecosystems in the West African highlands, especially with regard to glacial cycles amidst a shifting climate and their effects on species ...

0 comments

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.