Microbial Community Composition and Antibiotic Resistance Genes within a North Carolina Urban Water System

Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are thought to be potential incubators of antibiotic resistance. Persistence of commonly used antibiotics in wastewater may increase the potential for selection of resistance genes transferred between bacterial populations, some of which might pose a threat to human health. In this study, we measured the concentrations of ten antibiotics in wastewater plant influents and effluents, and in surface waters up- and downstream from two Charlotte area treatment facilities. We performed Illumina shotgun sequencing to assay the microbial community and resistome compositions at each site across four time points from late winter to mid-summer of 2016. Antibiotics are present throughout wastewater treatment, and elevated concentrations of multiple antibiotics are maintained in moving stream water downstream of effluent release. While some human gut and activated sludge associated taxa are detectable downstream, these seem to attenuate with distance while the core microbial community of the stream remains fairly consistent. We observe the slight suppression of functional pathways in the downstream microbial communities, including amino acid, carbohydrate, and nucleic acid metabolism, as well as nucleotide and amino acid scavenging. Nearly all antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) and potentially pathogenic taxa are removed in the treatment process, though a few ARG markers are elevated downstream of effluent release. Taken together, these results represent baseline measurements that future studies can utilize to help to determine which factors control the movement of antibiotics and resistance genes through aquatic urban ecosystems before, during, and after wastewater treatment.

Source: MDPI

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