Improved monitoring of emerging environmental biocontaminants through (nano)biosensors and molecular analyses
Riquelme Breazeal, Maria Virginia
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Outputs of human-derived chemicals and constituents to the environment, and shifts in these outputs, can result in unintended consequences to human and ecological health. One such shift is the advent of the modern antibiotic era, in which mass production and outputs of antibiotics, which are mostly naturally-derived microbial defense compounds and include a few synthetic antimicrobials, has profound implications for contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance arises from mutations and/or sharing of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) among bacteria via horizontal gene transfer, with carriage of ARGs by pathogenic bacteria of particular concern to human health. While most attention to stopping the spread of antibiotic resistance has been devoted to the clinic, it is critical to consider the environmental origin, ecology and pathways by which antibiotic resistance spreads in order to develop comprehensive strategies to combat antibiotic resistance. In particular, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) represent a potentially key critical control point given that they receive antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and ARGs from the population, which are then routed to activated sludge biological treatment, consisting of high density, highly active microbial populations. The research projects described in this dissertation aimed to explore the occurrence of ARGs in WWTPs, particularly WWTPs in developing countries representing the extremes of what is expected to be encountered in terms of potential to spread antibiotic resistance, and to improve and apply novel technologies for monitoring key markers of antibiotic resistance in WWTPs and affected environments. The pathogen Staphylococcus aureus and a corresponding ARG (methicillin resistance mecA gene) were chosen as model biocontaminants of concern due to their environmental and public health relevance. The results reported in Chapters 3-5 advance the knowledge of bio(nano)sensing techniques and highlight areas of promise and challenge. The results reported in Chapter 2 provided insight into the baseline levels of ARGs expected in a highly impacted WWTP in India, thereby highlighting the magnitude and global scale of the problem of antibiotic resistance as well as the need for innovative solutions.
- Doctoral Dissertations