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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 28;8(6):e62712. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062712. Print 2013.

Occurrence and abundance of antibiotics and resistance genes in rivers, canal and near drug formulation facilities--a study in Pakistan.

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Department of Chemistry, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.


Antibiotic resistance (AR) is a global phenomenon that has severe epidemiological ramifications world-wide. It has been suggested that antibiotics that have been discharged into the natural aquatic environments after usage or manufacture can promote the occurrence of antibiotic resistance genes (ARG). These environmental ARGs could serve as a reservoir and be horizontally transferred to human-associated bacteria and thus contribute to AR proliferation. The aim of this study was to investigate the anthropogenic load of antibiotics in Northern Pakistan and study the occurrence of ARGs in selected samples from this region. 19 sampling sites were selected; including six rivers, one dam, one canal, one sewage drain and four drug formulation facilities. Our results show that five of the rivers have antibiotic levels comparable to surface water measurements in unpolluted sites in Europe and the US. However, high levels of antibiotics could be detected in the downstream river in close vicinity of the 10 million city Lahore, 1100, 1700 and 2700 ng L(-1) for oxytetracycline, trimethoprim, and sulfamethoxazole respectively. Highest detected levels were at one of the drug formulation facilities, with the measured levels of 1100, 4100, 6200, 7300, 8000, 27,000, 28,000 and 49,000 ng L(-1) of erythromycin, lincomycin, ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin, levofloxacin, oxytetracycline, trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole respectively. ARGs were also detected at the sites and the highest levels of ARGs detected, sulI and dfrA1, were directly associated with the antibiotics detected at the highest concentrations, sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim. Highest levels of both antibiotics and ARGs were seen at a drug formulation facility, within an industrial estate with a low number of local residents and no hospitals in the vicinity, which indicates that the levels of ARGs at this site were associated with the environmental levels of antibiotics.

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