Exploring resistomes and microbiomes in pilot-scale microalgae-bacteria wastewater treatment systems for use in low-resource settings

Sci Total Environ. 2023 Jul 15:882:163545. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.163545. Epub 2023 Apr 18.


Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) released into the environment are an emerging human and environmental health concern, including ARGs spread in wastewater treatment effluents. In low-to-middle income countries (LMICs), an alternate wastewater treatment option instead of conventional systems are low-energy, high-rate algal ponds (HRAP) that use microalgae-bacteria aggregates (MABA) for waste degradation. Here we studied the robustness of ARG removal in MABA-based pilot-scale outdoor systems for 140 days of continuous operation. The HRAP system successfully removed 73 to 88 % chemical oxygen demand and up to 97.4 % ammonia, with aggregate size increasing over operating time. Fourteen ARG classes were identified in the HRAP influent, MABA, and effluent using metagenomics, with the HRAP process reducing total ARG abundances by up to 5-fold from influent to effluent. Parallel qPCR analyses showed the HRAP system significantly reduced exemplar ARGs (p < 0.05), with 1.2 to 4.9, 2.7 to 6.3, 0 to 1.5, and 1.2 to 4.8 log-removals for sul1, tetQ, blaKPC, and intl1 genes, respectively. Sequencing of influent, effluent and MABAs samples showed associated microbial communities differed significantly, with influent communities by Enterobacteriales (clinically relevant ARGs carrying bacteria), which were less evident in MABA and effluent. In this sense, such bacteria might be excluded from MABA due to their good settling properties and the presence of antimicrobial peptides. Microalgae-bacteria treatment systems steadily reduced ARGs from wastewater during operation time, using sunlight as the energetic driver, making them ideal for use in LMIC wastewater treatment applications.

Keywords: Algae; Antibiotic resistance genes; Granulation; HRAP; Metagenomes; Wastewater treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Microalgae* / metabolism
  • Microbiota*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid
  • Wastewater
  • Water Purification*


  • Wastewater
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents