Amy Pruden is attacking antibiotic resistance genes before they have a chance to attack the world.
The assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, along with a team of graduate students and another professor, found antibiotic resistance genes present in the Poudre River.
The genes are resistant to the common antibiotics tetracycline and sulfonamide, which are used to treat humans and animals.
Pruden and her team took samples from five sites along the river and found higher concentrations of the genes in areas with more urban and agricultural impact.
“The problem of antibiotic resistance genes for humans is a big concern worldwide,” Pruden said, adding tuberculosis is prevalent in Africa because the infection is resistant to antibiotics, which is making it difficult to treat.
The World Health Organization estimates 2 million Americans are infected with resistant pathogens each year and 14,000 die.
“(Antibiotic resistance genes) have been addressed clinically and pharmaceutically with new antibiotics, but we may reach the point where we have a hard time finding new drugs, and we’re not going to be able to fight off these new infections,” said Heather Storteboom, a civil and environmental engineering graduate student working on the project.
Pruden shared Storteboom’s thoughts.
“Vancomycin is the last-resort antibiotic,” Pruden said. “Bacteria are becoming resistant to that, and there aren’t any options left.”
Instead of relying on pharmaceutical companies to find new antibiotics, Pruden thinks it’s important to look at the issue from all angles.
“Water may be a pathway for spreading resistance, so it’s important to look at it from that angle,” she said.
As research continues, the team will study the South Platte watershed and look at the relative impact of humans and agriculture to better understand their affects.
“We want to have a better idea of where (the genes) are coming from, how they’re transported and ways to get rid of them,” Storteboom said.
If they find humans produce more of the genes, the team will focus treatment on wastewater and drinking water, and they will work with the farming community if they find agriculture plays a bigger role in production.
Pruden said they’re also looking at ways to kill the gene. Chlorination inactivates DNA, but does not destroy it, so the team is researching methods to destroy the entire gene.
“The DNA is really persistent and can cross between different organisms,” Pruden said. “A bacterium in the environment could pick up the DNA of another cell, so that’s why we’re interested in destroying the DNA.”
Pruden and Storteboom stress their research does not mean Fort Collins’ drinking water is unsafe.
“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about now,” Storteboom said. “It’s something we’re interested in, and we want to find out more about it.”
Staff writer Heather Hawkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.