Urban Sewage Breeds Antimicrobial Resistance In China

Chinese scientists find that municipal sewage across China harbors diverse and abundant antimicrobial-resistant genes.

AsianScientist (Aug. 2, 2017) – In a study published in the journal Microbiome, a team of scientists led by Professor Zhu Yongguan from the Institute of Urban Environment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed that urban sewage in China is rampant with antimicrobial-resistant genes.

Even healthy adults harbor significant quantities of resistance genes in their gut microbiome, primarily owing to antibiotic usage in infection treatment. In particular, the frequent presence of multi-antibiotic resistant “superbugs” in human feces predicts a return to the pre-antibiotic era, where a growing number of infections can no longer be treated using the current arsenal of drugs.

Urban sewage is a catchment receiving antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the gastrointestinal tracts of tens to hundreds of thousands of urban residents. The antimicrobial resistance distribution detected in urban sewage can serve as a proxy for the resistance burden map of their urban populations.

In this study, the researchers conducted a nationwide survey of antimicrobial resistance elements in China’s urban sewage. A total of over 116 urban sewage samples from 32 wastewater treatment plants across 17 Chinese major cities were investigated.

The scientists discovered that urban sewage contained high levels of antimicrobial-resistant genes–more than 1,000 gene copies per liter. In total, 381 different resistance genes conferring resistance to almost all antibiotics were detected. These genes were extensively shared across China, with no geographical clustering, highlighting that municipal sewage could be a major conduit for transferring antibiotic resistance genes into the environment.

This work provides a baseline for investigating the environmental dissemination of resistance elements, and raises the possibility of using the abundance of antimicrobial-resistant genes in sewage as a tool for antibiotic stewardship.



The article can be found at: Su et al. (2017) Metagenomics of Urban Sewage Identifies an Extensively Shared Antibiotic Resistome in China.

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Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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