Impact of the particulate matter from wastewater discharge on the abundance of antibiotic resistance genes and facultative pathogenic bacteria in downstream river sediments

  • chair:

    Brown, P.C. /  Borowska, E. / Schwartz, T. / Horn, H. (2018)

  • place:

    Science of the Total Environment 649, 2019, 1171–1178

  • Date: August 2018


Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are point sources for both, the release of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and the discharge of antibiotics (ABs) into the environment. While it is well established that ARGs emission by WWTPs leads to an ARGs increase in receiving rivers, also the role of sub-inhibitory AB concentrations in this context is being discussed. However, the results obtained in this study suggest that, at environmental concentrations, ABs do not have an effect on resistance selection. Instead, we emphasize the significance of ARG transport and, in that respect, highlight the relevance of wastewater particles and associated microorganisms. We can show that ARGs (ermB, blaTEM,tetM, qnrS) as well as facultative pathogenic bacteria (FPB) (enterococci, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii) inside the particulate fraction of WWTP effluent are very likely to remain in the riverbed of the receiving water due to sedimentation. Moreover, ARG and FPB abundances measured in the particulate fraction strongly correlated with the delta ARG and FPB abundances measured in the receiving river sediment (downstream compared to upstream) (R2 = 0.93, p < 0.05). Apparently, the sheer amount of settleable ARGs and FPB from WWTP effluent is sufficient, to increase abundances in the receiving riverbed by 0.5 to 2 log units.