Team detects antibiotics in Nebraska watersheds

Civil Engineering

University Communication, September 8, 2020

Team detects antibiotics in Nebraska watersheds

A multi-campus collaboration among University of Nebraska system faculty, including four Husker researchers, has discovered antibiotics used in human treatment in two Nebraska agricultural water systems.

The finding of antibiotics in watersheds near Fremont and Lincoln is deeply concerning, said Wayne Matthews, associate professor and director of research with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Allied Health Professionals.

“It likely could have an impact on our increasing resistance to antibiotics,” Mathews said. “As clinicians, we hear frequent warnings not to overprescribe antibiotics, and I totally agree with that. But, for example, more than 30 percent of common (urinary tract) infections show resistance to antibiotic treatment.”

According to recent research, that trend is likely tied to more than overprescribing. The same study also reports that high rates of antibiotic resistance are found in agricultural areas.

Members of the research team include, from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Xu Li, associate professor of civil engineering; Shannon Bartlet-Hunt, professor and chair of civil engineering; Dan Snow, research professor with the Nebraska Water Center; and Jodi Sangster, postdoctoral research associate; and, from UNMC, Matthews and Linsey Donner, assistant professor of microbiology.

The team’s study features a two-year intensive analysis of the Elkhorn River and Shell Creek watersheds.

Their findings — which are awaiting publication — found that bacteria that carry an antibiotic-resistant gene is prevalent in drinking and agricultural water. Further, the study showed weak points in U.S. Food and Drug Administration safeguards and tracking related to human antibiotics in water.

The team presented its findings at the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education’s annual conference and has been accepted at IDWeek, an infectious disease conferences, to be published in its Infectious Disease Abstracts.

Learn more about the study.

Civil Engineering Nebraska Water Center