Antibiotic resistance genes and antibiotic resistant bacteria as emerging contaminants in wastewater: fate and persistence in engineered and natural environments

  • David Mantilla Calderon

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The emergence and rapid spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a phenomenon that extends beyond clinical settings. AMR has been detected in multiple environmental compartments, including agricultural soils and water bodies impacted by wastewater discharges. The purpose of this research project was to evaluate what factors could influence the environmental persistence of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), as well as to identify potential strategies employed by human pathogens to survive in secondary environment outside the host. The first part of this dissertation describes the incidence of the New Delhi metallobeta lactamase gene (blaNDM-1) – an ARG conferring resistance to last resort antibiotics – in the influent of a wastewater treatment facility processing municipal wastewater from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Detection of blaNDM-1 was followed by the isolation of a multi-drug resistant strain of E. coli (denoted as strain PI7) at a frequency of ca. 3 x 104 CFU/m3 in the untreated municipal wastewater. Subsequently, we described the decay kinetics of E. coli PI7 in microcosm experiments simulating biological treatment units of wastewater treatment plants. We identified that transition to dormancy is the main strategy prolonging the persistence of E. coli PI7 in the microcosm experiments. Additionally, we observed slower decay of E. coli PI7 and prolonged stability of extracellular DNA in anoxic/anaerobic conditions. In the last chapter of this thesis, the fate of extracellular DNA is further explored. Using as a model Acinetobacter baylyi ADP1, we describe the stimulation of natural transformation frequencies in the presence of chlorination disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Moreover, we demonstrate the ability of BAA to stimulate transformation is associated with its capacity to cause DNA damage via oxidative stress. Overall, this dissertation addresses important knowledge gaps in our current understanding of ARB and extracellular ARG persistence in the environment. The results from this project highlight the importance of retrofitting the existing water treatment process with advance membrane filtration units, and the need to relook into the current disinfection strategies. Wastewater treatment technologies should be assessed for their efficacies in not only inactivating ARB and ARGs, but also whether unintended consequences such as stimulated horizontal gene transfer would occur.
Date of AwardDec 2018
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorPeiying Hong (Supervisor)


  • Antimicrobial Resistance
  • Wastewater
  • Environmental DNA
  • Extracellular DNA

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