New Publication Analyzes Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing public health threat that requires a global “One Health” response; however, the best way to monitor it in the environment is unclear.

AMR manifests as antimicrobial resistant bacteria in clinical infections, and resistance is determined at the genetic level by antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs). ARGs occur naturally, but also have increased rapidly in bacteria in response to human antibiotics use. ARGs providing resistance to most antibiotics are now ubiquitous in the environment and are regarded as environmental pollutants. Resistance can be transferred among bacteria inhabiting humans, animals and environmental elements, such as water, air and soil.

Assistant Professor Ryan Newton and PhD student Lou LaMartina co-authored a commentary and analysis of what methods are being used to study antibiotic resistance in engineered/environmental water systems and how those methods inform the questions asked and interpretation of resistance data. This work was led by Tucker Burch at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Patrick McNamara at Marquette University and recently published in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology

The research team reviewed and analyzed high-cited papers from 2018-2020 that focused on drinking water, wastewater, groundwater, stormwater and livestock manure. The goal was to obtain a current snapshot of high-impact ARG studies in the environmental field.

They identified two distinct paradigms for framing risk assessment for antimicrobial resistance: current threats and future threats. They determined that most research has focused on current threats, and there is a dearth of research employing methods that examine the development of or transfer of ARGs, which is causing a crucial gap in advancing risk assessment for antimicrobial resistance. Moving forward, it will be critical to refine approaches geared towards identifying the conditions likely to produce future AMR threats to human and animal health.