Prevalence and fate of carbapenemase genes in a wastewater treatment plant in northern China

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Abstract

Carbapenemase-producing strains of bacteria, which were primarily found in the medical field, have increasingly been found in the environment, thus posing potential risks to public health. One possible way for carbapenemase genes to enter the environment is via wastewater. Therefore, the goal of this study was to determine the occurrence and fate of five high-risk carbapenemase genes in a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) in northern China using real-time qPCR. Results showed that the blaKPC-2, blaGES-1, and blaIMP-1 genes prevailed throughout all processing stages (even in the chlorination disinfection unit) in the WWTP, whereas the blaVIM-2 and blaOXA-48 genes were not detected in all samples. Worryingly, considerable amounts of carbapenemase genes ((1.54 ± 0.61) × 103 copies/mL to (2.14 ± 0.41) × 105 copies/mL) were detected in WWTP effluent samples, while the majority of the carbapenemase genes were transported to the dewatered sludge with concentrations from (6.51 ± 0.14) × 109 copies/g to (6.18 ± 0.63) × 1010 copies/g dry weight. Furthermore, a total of 97 KPC-2-producing strains, belonging to 8 bacterial genera, were isolated from the WWTP. Sequencing of 16S rRNA revealed that most of KPC-2 producing isolates were opportunistic pathogens, including Klebsiella spp. (10.3%), Enterococcus spp. (11.3%), Acinetobacter spp. (19.6%), Escherichia spp. (12.4%), Shigella spp. (17.5%), Stenotrophomonas spp. (10.3%) and Wautersiella spp. (9.3%). Moreover, blaKPC-2 genes were identified for the first time in Paenibacillus spp. isolates (an indigenous bacteria), indicating an increased risk of horizontal transfer between clinical pathogens and environmental bacteria. Indeed, a conjugation experiment demonstrated transfer of the blaKPC-2 gene to an E.coli J53 strain from a Klebsiella strain isolated from the WWTP. To our knowledge, this is the first study to obtain Paenibacillus spp. isolates carrying the carbapenemase gene and to quantify the abundance of carbapenemase genes in the environment.

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Yang, F., Mao, D., Zhou, H., & Luo, Y. (2016). Prevalence and fate of carbapenemase genes in a wastewater treatment plant in northern China. PLoS ONE, 11(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156383

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