Occurrence, Fate, and Mobility of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria and Antibiotic Resistance Genes among Microbial Communities Exposed to Alternative Wastewater Treatment Systems
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The ubiquitous nature of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) among environmental pathogens from a variety of wastewater effluents, suggests that the aquatic environment, and specifically alternative wastewater treatment systems, may act as reservoirs for drug resistant bacteria and ARGs, thereby contributing to the widespread dissemination of antibiotic resistance. More research is necessary to contribute to our understanding of the occurrence, fate, and mobility of antibiotic resistance and ARGs among bacterial indicators of faecal contamination as well as pathogenic bacteria within Canadian wastewater treatment systems. The primary objective of this research was to determine the prevalence, fate, and potential transfer of bacterial resistance and ARGs among selected environmental pathogens exposed to alternative wastewater treatment systems, while considering the impact of treatment strategies on the expression of antibiotic resistance. A detailed analysis was initially conducted with respect to the characterization and quantification of microbial populations (including antibiotic resistant bacteria) in a variety of treatment systems and waste effluent sources. Traditional culture-based screening techniques in combination with molecular characterization (through colony or multiplex PCR), and molecular quantification using real-time quantitative PCR were utilized in order to help establish a preliminary environmental assessment of selected pathogens (Escherichia coli, Enterococcus spp., Salmonella spp.) and ARGs (tetA, blaSHV, & ampC) within a variety of wastewater treatment systems (lab-scale mesocosms, constructed wetland, constructed lagoon system, and pilot-scale biological nutrient removal (BNR) system). Overall, the level of multiple antibiotic resistance (MAR) among culturable indicator (E. coli & Enterococcus spp.) and environmental bacteria was high (reaching 100% in several instances) within different types of wastewater treatment systems and effluent sources (poultry waste effluent, municipal wastewater, aquaculture wastewater). Common antibiotic resistance profiles among E. coli isolates included simultaneous resistance to between three and five antimicrobials, whereas common MAR profiles among Enterococcus spp. isolates showed resistance to ten or more antibiotics. Real time quantitative PCR was used to determine the concentration of three bacterial pathogens; E. coli, Enterococcus faecalis, and Salmonella spp., and three ARGs; tetA, ampC, and blaSHV, within a variety of wastewater samples. Based on the results, it was concluded that high concentrations of ARGs were present in the treated effluent (10⁴- 10⁶ target gene copies/100 mL), regardless of system type (i.e. constructed lagoon, pilot-scale BNR, or constructed wetland), which may ultimately serve as a potential route for entry of ARGs and antibiotic resistant bacteria into the natural environment. Water is considered an important medium for transfer of resistance genes and resistant bacteria to the broader environment. Few studies have examined the transferability via conjugation of ARGs in E. coli and Salmonella spp. isolated from wastewater. Identification of three resistance determinants (tetA, strA, strB) conferring resistance to tetracycline and streptomycin was performed on selected multi-drug resistant Salmonella spp. and E. coli isolates. The potential for transfer of tetracycline and streptomycin resistance genes was demonstrated through broth conjugation experiments using multi-drug resistant Salmonella spp. and E. coli isolates as donors, and E. coli K12 as the recipient. Conjugation was successfully observed in 75% (9/12) of donor isolates, occurring in both Salmonella spp. and E. coli isolates. Six strains (50%) were capable of transferring their tetA, strA, and strB genes to the recipient strain, resulting in 58.5% (38/65) of total transconjugant strains acquiring all three resistance determinants. The results confirm the role of environmental bacteria (isolated from wastewater treatment utilities) as a reservoir of antibiotic resistance and ARGs, containing mobile genetic elements, which are capable of disseminating and transferring ARGs. As concerns about water quality and environmental contamination by human and agricultural effluents have increased, it has become increasingly more important to consider the prevalence and transferability of ARGs to opportunistic and human pathogens. As observed in this research, the ubiquitous nature of multi-drug resistant bacteria in water and wastewater effluents, the presence of diverse ARGs of human and veterinary health significance, as well as the transfer of resistance determinants through conjugative plasmids to recipient bacteria, suggests that environmental exposure through contact or consumption with contaminated water is probable. However, a lack of critical information still exists regarding the movement of resistance genes within and between microbial populations in the environment. In addition, the extent of human exposure to ARGs and antibiotic resistant bacteria is still not well understood, and future studies on human exposure to these resistant contaminants are necessary.
Cite this version of the work
Cassandra Helt (2012). Occurrence, Fate, and Mobility of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria and Antibiotic Resistance Genes among Microbial Communities Exposed to Alternative Wastewater Treatment Systems. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/6896