Investigating the impact of anthropogenic activities on the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance within the environment.
Whilst antimicrobial resistance in bacteria is a naturally occurring phenomenon, the persistent and often unnecessary administration of antibiotics over the last 70 years has placed enormous selective pressure on bacterial species. As a result, we have observed a significant rise in the number of antimicrobial resistant bacteria that is felt the world over.
Many of the resistance genes are located on mobile genetic elements and therefore resistant bacteria are capable of transferring genes conferring resistance to human and animal pathogens via horizontal gene transfer.
However, the (mis-)use of antibiotics alone is not solely responsible for the spread of antimicrobial resistance across bacterial populations. Effluent from hospital/communities, as well as agricultural runoff contain sub-lethal levels of antibiotics and resistant bacterial species; and whilst mitigation strategies are in place to reduce microbial load eg. wastewater treatment plants, these processes have been recently shown to positively select for resistant determinants that are released into the environment.
Since very little is known about the environmental resistome, I am working towards understanding the impact of wastewater treatment plants on the spread of antimicrobial resistance within the Thames catchment. This project forms part of a large collaborative effort with the University of Exeter, CEH, Hong Kong University and Birmingham University.
Further to this, I am working with Ms Séverine Rangama to elucidate the contribution of hospital effluent to the environmental resistome. Our research will highlight the shortcomings of the current systems in place for tackling antimicrobial resistance and will provide a valuable framework for improving and developing new strategies.