Antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and their genes (ARGs) have become recognised as significant emerging environmental pollutants.ARB and ARGs in sewage sludge can be transmitted back to humans via the food chain when sludge is recycled to agricultural land, making sludge treatment key to control the release of ARB and ARGs to the environment.
This study investigated the fate of antibiotic resistant Escherichia coli and a large set of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) during full scale anaerobic digestion (AD) of sewage sludge at two U.K. wastewater treatment plants and evaluated the impact of thermal hydrolysis (TH) pre-treatment on their abundance and diversity. Absolute abundance of 13 ARGs and the Class I integron gene intI1 was calculated using single gene quantitative (q) PCR. High through-put qPCR analysis was also used to determine the relative abundance of 370 ARGs and mobile genetic elements (MGEs). Results revealed that TH reduced the absolute abundance of all ARGs tested and intI1 by 10-12,000 fold. After subsequent AD, a rebound effect was seen in many ARGs. . The fate of ARGs during AD without pre-treatment was variable. Relative abundance of most ARGs and MGEs decreased or fluctuated, with the exception of macrolide resistance genes, which were enriched at both plants, and tetracyline and glycopeptide resistance genes which were enriched in the plant employing TH. Diversity of ARGs and MGEs decreased in both plants during sludge treatment. Principal coordinates analysis revealed that ARGs are clearly distinguished according to treatment step, whereas MGEs in digested sludge cluster according to site. This study provides a comprehensive within-digestor analysis of the fate of ARGs, MGEs and antibiotic resistant E. coli and highlights the effectiveness of AD, particularly when TH is used as a pre-treatment, at reducing the abundance of most ARGs and MGEs in sludgeand preventing their release into the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0237283
Pages (from-to)e0237283
Number of pages17
JournalPlos One
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

ID: 3057703