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Water Res. 2019 Oct 1;162:437-445. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2019.06.073. Epub 2019 Jul 4.

Industrial wastewater treatment plant enriches antibiotic resistance genes and alters the structure of microbial communities.

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Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 330 North Orchard Street, Madison, WI, 53715, USA; Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research (CARe) at University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden; Department of Infectious Diseases, Institute of Biomedicine, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Guldhedsgatan 10, SE-413 46, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Division for Marine and Environmental Research, Rudjer Boskovic Institute, Bijenicka cesta 54, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia.
University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice, Faculty of Fisheries and Protection of Waters, South Bohemian Research Center of Aquaculture and Biodiversity of Hydrocenoses, Zatisi 728/II, CZ-389 25, Vodnany, Czech Republic.
Zagreb Wastewater - Management and Operation Ltd., Culinecka cesta 287, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia.
Chalmers Computational Systems Biology Infrastructure, Chalmers University of Technology, SE-412 96, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Division for Marine and Environmental Research, Rudjer Boskovic Institute, Bijenicka cesta 54, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Electronic address:


Antibiotic resistance is an emerging global health crisis, driven largely by overuse and misuse of antibiotics. However, there are examples in which the production of these antimicrobial agents has polluted the environment with active antibiotic residues, selecting for antibiotic resistant bacteria and the genes they carry. In this work, we have used shotgun metagenomics to investigate the taxonomic structure and resistance gene composition of sludge communities in a treatment plant in Croatia receiving wastewater from production of the macrolide antibiotic azithromycin. We found that the total abundance of antibiotic resistance genes was three times higher in sludge from the treatment plant receiving wastewater from pharmaceutical production than in municipal sludge from a sewage treatment plant in Zagreb. Surprisingly, macrolide resistance genes did not have higher abundances in the industrial sludge, but genes associated with mobile genetic elements such as integrons had. We conclude that at high concentrations of antibiotics, selection may favor taxonomic shifts towards intrinsically resistant species or strains harboring chromosomal resistance mutations rather than acquisition of mobile resistance determinants. Our results underscore the need for regulatory action also within Europe to avoid release of antibiotics into the environment.


Antibiotic resistance; Community structure; Macrolides; Pharmaceutical production; Wastewater treatment

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