Exploring the impact of wastewaters from pharmaceutical industries on the composition and antibiotic resistance profile of exposed microbial communities in freshwater sediments
The increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria is currently one of the most serious health threats. There is growing evidence that continuous environmental discharge of antibiotics and heavy metals contributes to this issue. The selection pressure imposed by these pollutants has promoted the development and spread of antibiotic resistance among environmental bacteria and pathogens. Although pharmaceutical waste is recognized as the most important point source of these pollutants in the receiving aquatic environment, its impact on the composition and antibiotic resistance profile of exposed microbial communities is not known. To fill this important research gap, we propose to take an interdisciplinary approach focusing on freshwater sediments impacted by wastewaters of two local pharmaceutical industries. We will assess the prevalence of antibiotics and heavy metals in these sediments and identify potential hot spots for resistance evolution. Antibiotic resistance genes from hot spots and reference sites will be discovered using functional metagenomics. This will lay the groundwork for a quantitative study that will establish spatio-temporal relationships between industrial discharge and the occurrence of antibiotic resistance. This, in combination with direct capturing of resistance plasmids from sediment bacteria to a model pathogen will be critical to draw conclusions about the spread of resistance genes among bacteria. Complete sequencing of transferable plasmids will furthermore assist in identifying novel plasmids that carry clustered antibiotic and heavy metal resistance gene loci. Finally, the impact of discharge on dynamics of sediment community composition will be analyzed by Illumina sequencing of 16S rRNA genes. We believe that the obtained knowledge will have vital implications for the development of effective management strategies to reduce the spread of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance determinants via environmental pathways.