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NEWS
Antibiotic Resistance Raises Concerns
December 30, 2010

When an antibiotic is consumed, researchers have learned that up to 90 percent passes through a body without metabolizing. This means the drugs can leave the body almost intact through normal bodily functions.


Virginia Tech associate professor of civil and environmental engineering Amy Pruden explained that reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance is a critical measure needed to prolong the effectiveness of currently available antibiotics. Virginia Tech Photo.

In the case of agricultural areas, excreted antibiotics can then enter stream and river environments through a variety of ways, including discharges from animal feeding operations, fish hatcheries, and nonpoint sources such as the flow from fields where manure or biosolids have been applied. Water filtered through wastewater treatment plants may also contain used antibiotics.

Consequently, these discharges become “potential sources of antibiotic resistance genes,” says Amy Pruden, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipient, and an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control recognize antibiotic resistance “as a critical health challenge of our time,” Prof. Pruden writes in a paper published in a 2010 issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

She says reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance is a critical measure needed to prolong the effectiveness of currently available antibiotics. This is important since “new drug discovery can no longer keep pace with emerging antibiotic-resistant infections,” Prof. Pruden says.

In her work outlined in the Environmental Science and Technology article, she and her co-authors, H. Storteboom, M. Arabi and J.G. Davis, all of Colorado State University, and B. Crimi of Delft University in The Netherlands, identified specific patterns of antibiotic resistance gene occurrence in a Colorado watershed. Identification of these patterns represents a major step in being able to discriminate between agricultural and wastewater treatment plant sources of these genes in river environments.

As they are able to differentiate between human and animal sources of the antibiotic resistance genes, Prof. Pruden and her colleagues believe they can “shed light on areas where intervention can be most effective in helping to reduce the spread of these contaminants through environmental matrixes such as soils, groundwater, surface water and sediments”.

The Colorado Water Resources Research Institute and a USDA Agricultural Experiment Station provided funding for this study in addition to Prof. Pruden’s NSF award.


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