- Start date: 31 October 2020
- End date: 31 October 2023
- Funder: NERC
- Partners and collaborators: University of Birmingham, Institute of Microbiology and Infection
- Primary investigator: Dr Laura Carter
- External primary investigator: Professor Alan McNally
Antibiotics are one of the most crucial medicines on the planet. Without them we are unable to treat the vast majority of infectious diseases, ranging from life threatening intestinal infections and blood stream infections, to treating debilitating chronic infections such as urinary tract infections and respiratory infections.
The majority of the worlds antibiotics are produced in pharmaceutical factories in India. Antibiotics can be produced by chemical synthesis or by growing vast number of the microorganisms which naturally produce them. Either method results in the production of large quantities of waste, potentially containing active antibiotics and/or chemicals which may be toxic to bacteria and other cell types.
This waste goes through treatment plants before being released into the environment. This creates an enormous potential issue, as the more we expose bacteria to antibiotics the faster they evolve resistance to the drugs meaning they are unable to be used to treat infections.
This project will this we have formulated a central hypothesis: The release of antimicrobial production waste results in a plethora of chemical compounds being released to the environment. This release has a profound effect on microbial ecosystems and creates selection pressure for evolution of antimicrobial resistance via pleiotropic effects.
We will sample environments into which antibiotic production waste is released, and compare them to ‘pristine’ environments. This will allow us to determine exactly what effect the waste has on the microbial ecosystem, specifically, does it kill all beneficial bacteria to only leave harmful resistant bacteria alive.
We will carefully examine the waste to determine exactly how much active antibiotic is released but also which other potentially toxic chemicals are contained within the waste that may affect bacteria.
The proposed research project will have immediate and real impact across a number of stakeholders and disciplines. For example, quantifiable data on the impact of waste release on microbial ecosystems, the extent to which this selects for resistance, and a full determination of all chemical components which can select for resistance and at which concentrations, will allow for the development of research-informed guidelines on safe discharge levels as well as a full list of chemicals of concern to focus environmental monitoring upon.