Monitoring antibiotic resistance genes in wastewater treatment: Current strategies and future challenges

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Nguyen, AQ
Vu, HP
Nguyen, LN
Wang, Q
Djordjevic, SP
Donner, E
Yin, H
Nghiem, LD
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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing threat to human and animal health. Progress in molecular biology has revealed new and significant challenges for AMR mitigation given the immense diversity of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), the complexity of ARG transfer, and the broad range of omnipresent factors contributing to AMR. Municipal, hospital and abattoir wastewater are collected and treated in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), where the presence of diverse selection pressures together with a highly concentrated consortium of pathogenic/commensal microbes create favourable conditions for the transfer of ARGs and proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB). The rapid emergence of antibiotic resistant pathogens of clinical and veterinary significance over the past 80 years has re-defined the role of WWTPs as a focal point in the fight against AMR. By reviewing the occurrence of ARGs in wastewater and sludge and the current technologies used to quantify ARGs and identify ARB, this paper provides a research roadmap to address existing challenges in AMR control via wastewater treatment. Wastewater treatment is a double-edged sword that can act as either a pathway for AMR spread or as a barrier to reduce the environmental release of anthropogenic AMR. State of the art ARB identification technologies, such as metagenomic sequencing and fluorescence-activated cell sorting, have enriched ARG/ARB databases, unveiled keystone species in AMR networks, and improved the resolution of AMR dissemination models. Data and information provided in this review highlight significant knowledge gaps. These include inconsistencies in ARG reporting units, lack of ARG/ARB monitoring surrogates, lack of a standardised protocol for determining ARG removal via wastewater treatments, and the inability to support appropriate risk assessment. This is due to a lack of standard monitoring targets and agreed threshold values, and paucity of information on the ARG-pathogen host relationship and risk management. These research gaps need to be addressed and research findings need to be transformed into practical guidance for WWTP operators to enable effective progress towards mitigating the evolution and spread of AMR.

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Science of the Total Environment

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Nguyen, AQ; Vu, HP; Nguyen, LN; Wang, Q; Djordjevic, SP; Donner, E; Yin, H; Nghiem, LD, Monitoring antibiotic resistance genes in wastewater treatment: Current strategies and future challenges, Science of the Total Environment, 2021, 783, pp. 146964