Antimicrobial resistance in rural rivers: Comparative study of the Coquet (Northumberland) and Eden (Cumbria) River catchments

Sci Total Environ. 2024 Jun 10:928:172348. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172348. Epub 2024 Apr 16.


Many studies have characterised resistomes in river microbial communities. However, few have compared resistomes in parallel rural catchments that have few point-source inputs of antimicrobial genes (ARGs) and organisms (i.e., AMR) - catchments where one can contrast more nebulous drivers of AMR in rural rivers. Here, we used quantitative microbial profiling (QMP) to compare resistomes and microbiomes in two rural river catchments in Northern England, the Coquet and Eden in Northumberland and Cumbria, respectively, with different hydrological and geographical conditions. The Eden has higher flow rates, higher annual surface runoff, and longer periods of soil saturation, whereas the Coquet is drier and has lower flowrates. QMP analysis showed the Eden contained significantly more abundant microbes associated with soil sources, animal faeces, and wastewater than the Coquet, which had microbiomes like less polluted rivers (Wilcoxon test, p < 0.01). The Eden also had greater ARG abundances and resistome diversity (Kruskal Wallis, p < 0.05), and higher levels of potentially clinically relevant ARGs. The Eden catchment had greater and flashier runoff and more extensive agricultural land use in its middle reach, which explains higher levels of AMR in the river. Hydrological and geographic factors drive AMR in rural rivers, which must be considered in environmental monitoring programmes.

Keywords: AMR; Hydrology; Land use; River catchments; Runoff; Rural.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • England
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Microbiota
  • Rivers* / microbiology