Decay of elevated antibiotic resistance genes in natural river sediments after sedimentation of wastewater particles

  • chair:

    Brown, P.C. /  Borowska, E. / Peschke, R. / Schwartz, T. / Horn, H. (2020)

  • place:

    Sci Total Environ, 2020, 705, doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135861

  • Date: November 2019


Large-scale wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) discharge hundreds of tons of total suspended solids (TSS) into surface waters every year. Additionally, a comparable amount is released by sewer overflows during heavy rain events in case of combined sewer systems. Along with sedimentation, particle-attached microorganisms and their antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) are herewith transported to the riverbed of the receiving water. To better understand the dynamics of this process, a particulate wastewater fraction was added into batch reactors, which were previously filled with natural river sediments and tap water. In parallel, antibiotics (ABs) (erythromycin, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin, roxithromycin, penicillin V, and sulfamethoxazole) were spiked to investigate their capability to select for resistance. The abundance of six ARGs (ermB, tetM, blaTEM, sul1, CTX-M-32, and qnrS) as well as total bacteria (16S rDNA) was monitored in waters and in sediments for a duration of two months using quantitative PCR. Despite a continuous exposure to ABs (5 μg/L each), the abundance of ARGs remained unaffected. Addition of wastewater particles resulted in a sudden and strong increase of ARGs in waters (3–5 log units) and sediments (1–4 log units), however, elevated ARGs underwent a particular and complete decay. Our results indicate that the increased ARG abundances in receiving rivers are the result of a continuous import of ARGs from WWTP discharges or sewer overflow events. They further imply that elevated ARGs do not persist in receiving rivers, if this continuous import is removed. This seems to be the case merely for ARGs introduced by wastewater, given that a stable background concentration of ARGs was observed for the native population.