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ISME J. 2014 Jul;8(7):1381-90. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.8. Epub 2014 Mar 6.

Wastewater as a point source of antibiotic-resistance genes in the sediment of a freshwater lake.

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Department of Surface Waters-Research and Management, Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Kastanienbaum, Switzerland.
Group of Limnology and Environmental Geology, Institut F.-A. Forel, University of Geneva, Versoix, Switzerland.


Antibiotic-resistance genes (ARGs) are currently discussed as emerging environmental contaminants. Hospital and municipal sewage are important sources of ARGs for the receiving freshwater bodies. We investigated the spatial distribution of different ARGs (sul1, sul2, tet(B), tet(M), tet(W) and qnrA) in freshwater lake sediments in the vicinity of a point source of treated wastewater. ARG contamination of Vidy Bay, Lake Geneva, Switzerland was quantified using real-time PCR and compared with total mercury (THg), a frequently particle-bound inorganic contaminant with known natural background levels. Two-dimensional mapping of the investigated contaminants in lake sediments with geostatistical tools revealed total and relative abundance of ARGs in close proximity of the sewage discharge point were up to 200-fold above levels measured at a remote reference site (center of the lake) and decreased exponentially with distance. Similar trends were observed in the spatial distribution of different ARGs, whereas distributions of ARGs and THg were only moderately correlated, indicating differences in the transport and fate of these pollutants or additional sources of ARG contamination. The spatial pattern of ARG contamination and supporting data suggest that deposition of particle-associated wastewater bacteria rather than co-selection by, for example, heavy metals was the main cause of sediment ARG contamination.

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