Genes as pollutants: tracking drug-resistant DNA in the environment.
A study that traces antibiotic-resistance genes in the environment indicates that they are present even in treated drinking water drinking water
supply of water available to animals for drinking supplied via nipples, in troughs, dams, ponds and larger natural water sources; an insufficient supply leads to dehydration; it can be the source of infection, e.g. leptospirosis, salmonellosis, or of poisoning, e.g. . The researchers behind the work and other scientists assert that the genes should be considered environmental contaminants and advocate environmental-engineering approaches toward limiting the spread of drug resistance.
In recent decades, overprescribing of antibiotics and widespread application of the drugs to farm animals have increased microbial microbial
pertaining to or emanating from a microbe.
the breakdown of organic material, especially feedstuffs, by microbial organisms. resistance. The resistant microbes spread through human and farm populations. The antibiotics end up in human and animal waste and can reach the environment, where resistance can also develop in soil- and water-dwelling bacteria. These bacteria might then transfer the resistance genes to microbes that affect people.
The genes that enable bacteria to resist antibiotics, for instance by expelling the drugs, can be exchanged between microbes in several ways. Amy Pruden, an environmental engineer at Colorado State University Colorado State University, at Fort Collins; land-grant with state and federal support; chartered 1870, opened 1879 as an agricultural college, assumed present name in 1957. There is a veterinary teaching hospital, an agricultural campus, and a research campus. in Fort Collins, notes that bacteria may also pick up free DNA DNA: see nucleic acid.
or deoxyribonucleic acid
One of two types of nucleic acid (the other is RNA); a complex organic compound found in all living cells and many viruses. It is the chemical substance of genes. .
Pruden and her colleagues decided to track the spread of antibiotic-resistance genes through an environment. The team used a method that would detect specific DNA sequences, whether from bacterial cells or their surroundings.
The researchers took sediment samples at five locations along the Cache la Poudre River The Cache La Poudre River (sometimes called the Poudre River for short) is a tributary of the South Platte River in the state of Colorado in the United States. in Colorado, beginning at its origin in the Rocky Mountains Rocky Mountains, major mountain system of W North America and easternmost belt of the North American cordillera, extending more than 3,000 mi (4,800 km) from central N.Mex. to NW Alaska; Mt. Elbert (14,431 ft/4,399 m) in Colorado is the highest peak. and continuing east to downstream sites in agricultural and urban areas. They also sampled water from irrigation irrigation, in agriculture, artificial watering of the land. Although used chiefly in regions with annual rainfall of less than 20 in. (51 cm), it is also used in wetter areas to grow certain crops, e.g., rice. ditches and waste-collection lagoons on dairy farms near the fiver. All the samples were then tested for four genes known to make bacteria resistant to the antibiotics tetracycline tetracycline (tĕ'trəsī`klēn), any of a group of antibiotics produced by bacteria of the genus Streptomyces. They are effective against a wide range of Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria, interfering with protein or sulfonamide sulfonamide /sul·fon·amide/ (sul-fon´ah-mid) a compound containing the sbondSO2NH2 group. The sulfonamides, or sulfa drugs, are derivatives of sulfanilamide, competitively inhibit folic acid synthesis in microorganisms, and formerly were .
The highest concentrations of three of the genes turned up in dairy-lagoon water, followed by irrigation-ditch water and then river sediments near agricultural and urban areas. That pattern suggests a pathway of resistance genes moving from the lagoons, through the ditches, and into the river, say the researchers.
In separate tests, the team also found two genes that carry resistance to tetracycline in Colorado drinking water and recycled wastewater. Current methods of treating drinking water aren't getting rid of the genes, says Pruden.
"I think we need environmental scientists and engineers on board, looking at this problem," she says. "Maybe there are simple ways we can modify wastewater-treatment plants or simple things farmers can do with their lagoons."
The team reports its findings in an upcoming Environmental Science & Technology.
Pedro J. Alvarez, an environmental engineer at Rice University in Houston, calls the work "very important." The discovery of antibiotic-resistance genes in drinking water demonstrates the "ubiquitous nature of the problem," he says.
By viewing antibiotic-resistance genes as pollutants, "we can begin to consider environmental-engineering solutions," Alvarez adds.