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Study finds temperature can influence microbial competition in rivers

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Los Angeles | February 11, 2024 6:53:42 PM IST
Wastewater-derived antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) can penetrate and initially join natural biofilms after being injected into a river, a study said. Although, they may not last long, researchers reported this week in mSphere.

However, as the river's temperature rises, the frequency of invasive ARGs reduces considerably, indicating that the preexisting microbial community is removing the resistant intruders. In barely two weeks, the concentration of ARGs in river water at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) returned to its initial level.

The finding suggests that rivers may offer a kind of defence against the spread of ARGs in wastewater. It was also contrary to what the researchers expected.

Most ARGs in wastewater originate in human faeces and thrive at the temperature of the human body, which is higher than most waterways. The microbiologists anticipated that warm rivers would be a welcome environment.

"We thought they should be rather well-adapted to higher temperatures," said microbiologist Uli Klumper, PhD, at Technische Universitat Dresden's Institute of Hydrobiology.

"So if river temperatures are rising with climate change, we wanted to know if these bacteria from wastewater would have an easier time integrating with the natural biofilms."

Klumper co-led the study with his PhD student Kenyum Bagra, who joined TU Dresden on a DAAD exchange fellowship from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, who led the study. The work was funded through the ANTIVERSA project by BiodivERsA, a European biodiversity organization.

Klumper, Bagra and their colleagues first immersed 27 glass slides in the Lockwitzbach River, in eastern Germany, for a month. "It's relatively pristine," Klumper said.

They collected the slides, which had amassed a natural biofilm from the river, and immersed them in artificial river systems at 1 of 3 temperatures. After a week, they observed that the abundance of naturally occurring ARGs increased in the warmest water, at 30 degrees Celsius.

Then, they exposed all the test slides to wastewater for 1 day and monitored the abundance of ARGs, both those that occurred naturally and those from wastewater, over the next 2 weeks. The ARGs from the wastewater readily invaded the biofilm in all 3 cases, with no difference in abundance by temperature.

"The introduction seems to be temperature independent," Klumper said.

But that's where the similarities ended. In the warmest water, the abundance of the invasive ARGs dropped significantly over 2 weeks. By the end of the experiment, the overall level of ARGs had returned to its initial, natural abundance, and the invasive ARGs had all but vanished.

In the other 2 groups, the invasive ARGs fared better. In some cooler samples, they were able to establish in the biofilm community, even at abundances far higher than the naturally occurring ARGs.

Those results suggested that the competition between invasive and indigenous microbes was mediated by temperature, Klumper said. "We were really surprised."

Researchers often assume that a warming world will promote pathogenic ARGs, he said, but it's likely not so straightforward. A river is a complex system, Klumper said and responds to warming in ways that are difficult to model.

"It's not only one effect that's at play," he said.

In addition, he noted that in their experiment, the initial sample came from a pristine river and a single exposure to wastewater, but in many cases, wastewater is constantly released."So in those biofilms, there might be members that originated from wastewater but adapted well to that ecosystem," he said. (ANI)

 
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