Host range of antibiotic resistance genes in wastewater treatment plant influent and effluent

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Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) collect wastewater from various sources for a multi-step treatment process. By mixing a large variety of bacteria and promoting their proximity, WWTPs constitute potential hotspots for the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Concerns have been expressed regarding the potential of WWTPs to spread antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) from environmental reservoirs to human pathogens. We utilized epicPCR (Emulsion, Paired Isolation and Concatenation PCR) to detect the bacterial hosts of ARGs in two WWTPs. We identified the host distribution of four resistance-associated genes (tetM, int1, qacEΔ1 and blaOXA-58) in influent and effluent. The bacterial hosts of these resistance genes varied between the WWTP influent and effluent, with a generally decreasing host range in the effluent. Through 16S rRNA gene sequencing, it was determined that the resistance gene carrying bacteria include both abundant and rare taxa. Our results suggest that the studied WWTPs mostly succeed in decreasing the host range of the resistance genes during the treatment process. Still, there were instances where effluent contained resistance genes in bacterial groups not carrying these genes in the influent. By permitting exhaustive profiling of resistance-associated gene hosts in WWTP bacterial communities, the application of epicPCR provides a new level of precision to our resistance gene risk estimates.

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