Superbugs in wastewater a worry

JOEL N. SHURKIN, ISNS Contributor Inside Science News Service | Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011

Even a very good wastewater treatment plant can’t clean up fragments of superbugs — bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotics — and until now, almost no one has noticed.

The implications are unclear — researchers did not look for whole living bacteria, just for dead fragments of their genetic material — but experts are concerned. Superbugs have developed resistance to almost every kind of antibiotic. They are building resistance faster than science can create new drugs. Many of them are deadly.

Timothy LaPara and a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, testing water pouring from a modern water treatment facility in Duluth, found genes of drug-resistant bacteria in the discharge. Most American cities do not have facilities as good as Duluth’s, but no one knows for sure how much worse the situation may be at those facilities because it has not been measured.

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