USGS SCoRR Project: Antibiotic Resistance Genes in Microbial Communities in Soils and Sediments of the United States

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The primary objective of the SCoRR Project is to assess the ability of wastewater sources emanating from septic tank systems, wastewater treatment plant outfalls, combined stormwater/sewer overflow outfalls and overflow events to affect genetic change in residential microbial communities that may present health risks to wildlife, livestock, pets and humans.

This research started with the assessment of sediment and soil samples collected and analyzed by USGS scientists within the USGS Sediment-bound Contaminant Resiliency and Response Strategy Project (SCoRR). Data are presented that were collected within two separate studies. The first was the SCoRR Project that analyzed soil and sediment samples collected over a large coastal area in the northeast United States of America. The second project presents data that were analyzed from sediment samples collected along a wastewater treatment plant’s ocean outfall line (land to outfall), in north south transits extending from the outfall and in a rosette of sites (at the outfall, 25m and 50m) at and around the outfall. Data from both of these projects have demonstrated that outfalls can increase the presence of antibiotic resistance genes in microbial communities and thus present elevated exposure and health risks.

Below are the occurrence values of 15 antibiotic resistance genes found at 277 soil and sediment sites along the NE Seaboard of the United States, and the proximity of sources such as outfalls that may be contributing to their presence.

map of Northeast US showing antibiotic resistance genes and their proximity of outfalls

Figure 1. The occurrence of 15 antibiotic resistance genes found at 277 soil and sediment sites along the Northeast Seaboard of the United  States, and the proximity of sources, such as sewage outfalls, that may be contributing to their presence. (Griffin and others, 2019. Public domain.)

Below is a survey of antibiotic resistance genes found in microbial communities in sediment and water samples in wastewater treatment plants in SE Florida and along and around an ocean outfall pipe and outlet. The objective of this study was to determine if antibiotic laden wastewater discharged into coastal waters was causing changes in the occurrence of antibiotic resistance genes in the immediate area of the outfall, thereby increasing human and coral reef health risks in this offshore marine ecosystem (Griffin and others, 2020. Public domain).

Hollywood, FL, outfall project pipe location map with insets

Figure 2. Hollywood, FL, sewage outfall location map, with insets showing antibiotic resistance genes found in microbial communities along and around an ocean outfall pipe and outlet. (Map credit: Breanna Williams and Betsy Boynton (Cherokee Nation Technologies, contracted to the USGS); inset map credit: Brian Walker, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center)

Hollywood, FL, ocean outfall pipe project map: insets show data points where antibiotic resistance genes were found

Figure 3. Hollywood, FL, ocean outfall pipe project map: enlarged inset from Figure 2 showing data points where antibiotic resistance genes were found (Map credit: Brian Walker, Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center).

Reference Cited

Griffin, D.W.,  Benzel, W.M.,  Fisher, S.C., Focazio, M.J., Iwanowicz, L.R., Loftin, K.A., Reilly, T.J., and Jones, D.K., 2019, The presence of antibiotic resistance genes in coastal soil and sediment samples from the eastern seaboard of the United States: Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 191 (Suppl. 2): 300, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-019-7426-z

Griffin, D.W., Banks, K., Gregg, K., Shedler, S., and Walker, B., 2020, Antibiotic resistance in marine microbial communities in close proximity to a sewage ocean outfall system off southeast Florida: Antibiotics, 9(118):1-10