Cause of antibiotic resistance may be linked to human excrement

Where human and animal sewage ends up is not often a topic of choice. Unless you’re a researcher interested in antibiotic resistance! Through field research and data interpretation, a study was conducted to determine if the human fecal matter could be to blame for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and/or genes.

Finding the perfect marker

Researchers identified several genetic markers for tracking fecal pollution. Using CrAssphage as a genetic marker was ideal as it is nearly nonexistent in animals. This bacteriophage is more abundant in humans than many other phages. Given this information, crAssphage was the ideal marker for researchers determining human fecal pollution levels in the environment. This marker is also key in determining whether the pollution is due to accumulation in the environment or a genetic selection of resistance.

Interpreting the data

The researchers concluded that the abundance of antibiotic-resistant genes correlated with fecal pollution levels rather than the selection of the resistant gene. Sediments in India had the highest occurrences of pollution due to high levels of pharmaceutical production. Hospitals and wastewater treatment plants had the highest occurrence of pollution throughout the United Kingdom and Singapore.

The researchers also concluded that wastewater treatment plants were highly effective at removing antibiotics from treated water. No longer being a viable carrier of antibiotic-resistant genes, this water would then be considered safe for expulsion. Release points of concentrated fecal matter tend to be hotspots for antibiotic accumulation. The result is a greater concentration of antibiotic-resistant genes.

Potential for future findings

This study is important beyond the concern for human health. Researchers are now looking to identify other fecal phage markers in livestock. Replication of this study could then determine if animals can pass antibiotic resistance on to humans or other animals. It may also lead to the determination and regulation of sludge release levels in agriculture.

The Journal of Nature Communications released the full study on the website.

New information may change the way agriculture and pharmaceutical companies address the topics of waste and antibiotic resistance.
New information may change the way agriculture and pharmaceutical companies address the topics of waste and antibiotic resistance.

4 Replies to “Cause of antibiotic resistance may be linked to human excrement”

  1. I’m curious, and maybe I misunderstood, if the treatment plants are effective at removing the antibiotics then why are we seeing antibiotic accumulation and resistant genes? I’m definitely going to be reading this study!

    1. The treatment plant remove the antibiotics and genes from the water, not the sludge left over. Think of it as human manure, it becomes concentrated when the water is removed, and then it’s released into the environment causing resistant genes to become concentrated as well.

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