Antibiotic resistance genes as emerging contaminants: studies in northern Colorado

Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Dec 1;40(23):7445-50. doi: 10.1021/es060413l.


This study explores antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) as emerging environmental contaminants. The purpose of this study was to investigate the occurrence of ARGs in various environmental compartments in northern Colorado, including Cache La Poudre (Poudre) River sediments, irrigation ditches, dairy lagoons, and the effluents of wastewater recycling and drinking water treatment plants. Additionally, ARG concentrations in the Poudre River sediments were analyzed at three time points at five sites with varying levels of urban/agricultural impact and compared with two previously published time points. It was expected that ARG concentrations would be significantly higher in environments directly impacted by urban/agricultural activity than in pristine and lesser-impacted environments. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) detection assays were applied to detect the presence/absence of several tetracycline and sulfonamide ARGs. Quantitative real-time PCR was used to further quantify two tetracycline ARGs (tet(W) and tet(O)) and two sulfonamide ARGs (sul(I) and sul(II)). The following trend was observed with respect to ARG concentrations (normalized to eubacterial 16S rRNA genes): dairy lagoon water > irrigation ditch water > urban/agriculturally impacted river sediments (p < 0.0001), except for sul(II), which was absent in ditch water. It was noted that tet(W) and tet(O) were also present in treated drinking water and recycled wastewater, suggesting that these are potential pathways for the spread of ARGs to and from humans. On the basis of this study, there is a need for environmental scientists and engineers to help address the issue of the spread of ARGs in the environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Colorado
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics*
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data*
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Genes, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Seasons
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Supply*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical