Scientists have used wastewater as an indicator of antibiotic resistance

Researchers have developed a new method that can help quickly reduce the problem of growing antibiotic resistance in living organisms through wastewater systems. The new study is reported by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

About 70% of the antibiotics we take as medicines end up in the natural environment. And it’s not only about the natural secretions of patients but also about the improper disposal of drugs. In addition to antibiotic residues, bacteria are also present in the wastewater. When they are exposed to antibiotics, they can develop resistance. In turn, this leads to an increased threat to human health. for example, if antibiotic-resistant bacteria invade and colonize the intestines, such as by accidentally swallowing water while swimming. These bacteria can then pass on resistance to human-related bacteria. As a result, antibiotics are less likely to work when needed.

Previous research by a team from the University of Exeter and AstraZeneca has clearly demonstrated the need to establish safe thresholds for antibiotic concentration to enter sewers and other wastewater systems.

In a new study, a team of scientists devised a way to solve the problem. They have developed a quick and economical method to predict the minimum concentration of antibiotics that will increase resistance to them. This method calculates what level of antibiotics can be safely discharged into wastewater to minimize the impact on the growth of antibiotic resistance. It can also be used to assess the effects of a combination of chemicals and antibiotics.



Antibiotic resistance has been recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the greatest health threats of our time. By 2050, up to 10 million deaths, each year could be caused by non-working antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used to treat common diseases. For example, respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, and urinary tract infections. The threat of resistance can also increase the risk of contracting an infection after surgery.

The method itself works like this. Bacteria are removed from the wastewater and then exposed to various concentrations of antibiotics. When bacteria actively grow and divide under these conditions, the lowest concentration of antibiotic is detected, which reduces the growth of organisms. The data are compared to no antibiotic at all. So scientists understand which antibiotics and in what concentrations are safe, and which will lead to the emergence of resistance.

Scientists explain that the new method uses fewer resources, specialized equipment, and manipulation.

The research team validated the method using these more sophisticated and previously published experimental methods and generated the largest experimental dataset available for the lowest antibiotic concentrations using a single method. It is precisely those drugs that contribute to the development of resistance.

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