Metagenomics-Based Environmental Monitoring of Antibiotic Resistance: Towards Standardization

dc.contributor.authorDavis, Benjamin Coleen
dc.contributor.committeechairPruden, Amyen
dc.contributor.committeememberStevens, Ann M.en
dc.contributor.committeememberGarner, Emilyen
dc.contributor.committeememberEdwards, Marc A.en
dc.contributor.committeememberVikesland, Peter J.en
dc.contributor.departmentCivil and Environmental Engineeringen
dc.description.abstractAntibiotic resistance (AR) is a critical and looming threat to human health that requires action across the One Health continuum (humans, animals, environment). Coordinated surveillance within the environmental sector is largely underdeveloped in current National Action Plans to combat the spread of AR, and a lack of effective study approaches and standard analytical methods have led to a dearth of impactful environmental monitoring data on the prevalence and risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in aquatic environments. In this dissertation, integrated surveillance approaches of surface water and wastewater systems are demonstrated, and efforts are made towards standardizing both metagenomic- and culture-based techniques for globally comparable environmental monitoring. A field study of differentially-impacted watersheds on the island of Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria demonstrated the effectiveness of metagenomics in defining direct impact of anthropogenic stress and human fecal contamination on the proliferation of ARGs in riverine systems. The contribution of treated wastewater effluents to the dissemination of highly mobile and clinically-relevant ARGs and their connection to local clinical settings was also revealed. At the international scale, a transect of conventional activated sludge wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), representing both US/European and Asian regions, were found to significantly attenuate ARG abundance through the removal of total bacterial load and human fecal indicators, regardless of influent ARG compositions. Strong structural symmetry between microbiome and ARG compositions through successional treatment stages suggested that horizontal gene transfer plays a relatively minor role in actively shaping resistomes during treatment. Risk assessment models, however, indicated high-priority plasmid-borne ARGs in final treated effluents discharged around the world, indicating potentially increased transmission risks in downstream environments. Advancements were also made toward standardizing methods for the generation of globally representative and comparable metagenomic- and culture-based AR monitoring data via two comprehensive and critical literature reviews. The first review provides guidance in next-generation sequencing (NGS) studies of environmental AR, proposing a framework for experimental controls, adequate sequencing depths, appropriate use of public databases, and the derivation of datatypes that are conducive for risk assessment. The second review focuses on antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus spp. as robust monitoring targets and an attractive alternative to more widely adopted Gram-negative organisms, while proposing workflows that generate universally equivalent datatypes. Finally, quantitative metagenomic (qMeta) techniques were benchmarked using internal reference standards for high-throughput quantification of ARGs with statistical reproducibility.en
dc.description.abstractgeneralAntimicrobials have contributed to the reduction of infectious diseases in humans and animals since the early 20th century, increasing productivity and saving countless lives. However, their industrial-scale application across human, animal, and agricultural sectors over the last several decades, especially the use of antibiotics, have engendered the proliferation of antibiotic resistance (AR). AR occurs when changes in bacteria cause the drugs used to treat infections to become less effective and has become one of the leading public health threats of the 21st century. The global spread of AR through the transmission and evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB; known colloquially as "superbugs") and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) across the One Health continuum (i.e., humans, animals, and the environment) is resulting in increased hospitalization, length of hospital stays, suffering, death, and overall health-care associated costs globally. This dissertation demonstrates the use of metagenomics, the sequencing of all genetic material (e.g., DNA) recovered from a microbial community, for the comprehensive monitoring of ARB and ARGs in aquatic environments, a key pathway for the dissemination of AR into and out of human populations. In order to impede the proliferation of AR, surveillance systems are currently in place to track the spread and evolution of ARB and ARGs in humans and livestock, as well as agri-food sectors. However, the surveillance in natural and built environments (i.e., rivers and domestic sewage) has significantly lagged due to the lack of standard monitoring targets and methodologies. It is also a goal of this dissertation to suggest guidance for the collection of metagenomic- and culture-based AR monitoring data to generate universally comparable results that can be included in centralized databases. Riverine systems are ideal models for tracking input of antibiotic resistance to the natural environment by human activity. After Hurricane-Maria, many of Puerto Rico's wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) went offline, discharging raw sewage to local surface waters. In a cross-sectional study of watersheds impacted by WWTPs, the abundance of ARGs was directly correlated to increases in local population density. Also, highly mobile and clinically-relevant ARGs were found directly downstream of WWTPs across the island. We found that many of these ARGs corresponded well to forms AR endemic to the region. WWTPs are the primary engineering controls put in place to curb the spread of human and animal waste streams and can help to reduce AR. An international transect of conventional activated sludge WWTPs representing US/Europe and Asia were sampled to garner a mechanistic understanding of the fate or ARGs through treatment. Although WWTPs remove total bacteria, human fecal indicators, and much of the abundance of ARGs, mobile and clinically-relevant ARGs are discharged around the world in large quantities. Consideration is needed in certain regions of iv the world where the managing of human waste streams is the first line of defense against the dissemination of resistance to local communities. Two comprehensive critical literature reviews were conducted to evaluate the various methodologies for generating and analyzing metagenomic- and culture-based AR monitoring data. These reviews address the need for experimental rigor and disclosure of extensive metadata for inclusion in future, centralized databases. The articles further provide guidance with respect to universally comparable datatypes and efficient workflows that will aid in the scale-up of the collection of environmental monitoring data within a global surveillance framework. Finally, a study was conducted to benchmark the use of internal DNA reference standards for the absolute quantification of ARGs (i.e., on a ARG copy per volume of sample basis). The statistical framework for ARG detection and its implications for wastewater-based surveillance systems of AR are also discussed.en
dc.description.degreeDoctor of Philosophyen
dc.publisherVirginia Techen
dc.rightsIn Copyrighten
dc.subjectantibiotic resistanceen
dc.subjectsurface wateren
dc.subjectnext-generation sequencingen
dc.subjectquantitative metagenomicsen
dc.titleMetagenomics-Based Environmental Monitoring of Antibiotic Resistance: Towards Standardizationen
dc.typeDissertationen Engineeringen Polytechnic Institute and State Universityen of Philosophyen


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