Shotgun metagenomic analysis of antimicrobial resistance in wastewater

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Virginia Tech


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens our modern standard of living with the potential return to a pre-antibiotic condition where deadly infections are no longer treatable. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are vital components in water sanitation infrastructure and are now also being recognized as valuable monitoring points for antibiotics, antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB), and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) disposed of or excreted by human populations. Hospital waste water is of special interest as a potential focused monitoring point and in general research is needed to establish the benefits of both on-site and community-scale wastewater treatment as important barriers to the disseminators of ARGs into the environment. The research aims described herein examine these components of wastewater treatment and how they relate to AMR indicators identified through metagenomic sequencing. Through monitoring of local WWTPs, it was found that AMR indicators shifted over time and in relation to human behavior that changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital wastewater did not measurably impact the microbiome during simulated activated sludge wastewater treatment according to broad-scale metagenomic ARG profiling; however, some clinically-relevant ARGs escaped treatment. Lastly, a study of a transect of WWTPs indicated impacts on the abundance of certain ARGs in downstream riverine receiving environments. Nonetheless, there appeared to be a number of other factors at play, and upstream and downstream resistomes tended to remain similar, calling for further research to delineate impacts of various wastewaters and treatments on ARGs in affected aquatic environments.



wastewater, antibiotic resistance, SARS-CoV-2, next-generation sequencing, wastewater based surveillance