Spatiotemporal profiling of antibiotics and resistance genes in a river catchment: Human population as the main driver of antibiotic and antibiotic resistance gene presence in the environment

Felicity C.T. Elder, Kathryn Proctor, Ruth Barden, William H. Gaze, Jason Snape, Edward J. Feil, Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern

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Studies to understand the role wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) play in the dissemination of antibiotics (ABs), and in the emergence of antibiotic resistance (ABR), play an important role in tackling this global crisis. Here we describe the abundance and distribution of 16 ABs, and 4 corresponding antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), sampled from the influent to five WWTPs within a single river catchment. We consider four classes of antibiotics: fluroquinolones, macrolides, sulfamethoxazole and chloramphenicol, as well the corresponding antibiotic resistance genes qnrS, ermB, sul1 and catA. All antibiotics, apart from four fluroquinolones (besifloxacin, lomefloxacin, ulifloxacin, prulifloxacin), were detected within all influent wastewater from the 5 cities (1 city = 1 WWTP), as were the corresponding antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). Strong correlations were observed between the daily loads of ABs and ARGs versus the size of the population served by each WWTP, as well as between AB and ARG loads at a single site. The efficiency of ABs and ARGs removal by the WWTPs varied according to site (and treatment process utilized) and target, although strong correlations were maintained between the population size served by WWTPs and daily loads of discharged ABs and ARGs into the environment. We therefore conclude that population size is the main determinant of the magnitude of AB and ARG burden in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117533
JournalWater Research
Early online date8 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2021


  • AMR
  • Environment
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Resistance genes
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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