Microbial and Viral Communities and Their Antibiotic Resistance Genes Throughout a Hospital Wastewater Treatment System

Morgan L. Petrovich*, Adi Zilberman, Aviv Kaplan, Gefen R. Eliraz, Yubo Wang, Kathryn Langenfeld, Melissa Duhaime, Krista Wigginton, Rachel Poretsky, Dror Avisar, George F. Wells

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to global public health, and antibiotic resistance determinants can enter natural aquatic systems through discharge of wastewater effluents. Hospital wastewater in particular is expected to contain high abundances of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) compared to municipal wastewater because it contains human enteric bacteria that may include antibiotic-resistant organisms originating from hospital patients, and can also have high concentrations of antibiotics and antimicrobials relative to municipal wastewater. Viruses also play an important role in wastewater treatment systems since they can influence the bacterial community composition through killing bacteria, facilitating transduction of genetic material between organisms, and modifying the chromosomal content of bacteria as prophages. However, little is known about the fate and connections between ARGs, viruses, and their associated bacteria in hospital wastewater systems. To address this knowledge gap, we characterized the composition and persistence of ARGs, dsDNA viruses, and bacteria from influent to effluent in a pilot-scale hospital wastewater treatment system in Israel using shotgun metagenomics. Results showed that ARGs, including genes conferring resistance to antibiotics of high clinical relevance, were detected in all sampling locations throughout the pilot-scale system, with only 16% overall depletion of ARGs per genome equivalent between influent and effluent. The most common classes of ARGs detected throughout the system conferred resistance to aminoglycoside, cephalosporin, macrolide, penam, and tetracycline antibiotics. A greater proportion of total ARGs were associated with plasmid-associated genes in effluent compared to in influent. No strong associations between viral sequences and ARGs were identified in viral metagenomes from the system, suggesting that phage may not be a significant vector for ARG transfer in this system. The majority of viruses in the pilot-scale system belonged to the families Myoviridae, Podoviridae, and Siphoviridae. Gammaproteobacteria was the dominant class of bacteria harboring ARGs and the most common putative viral host in all samples, followed by Bacilli and Betaproteobacteria. In the total bacterial community, the dominant class was Betaproteobacteria for each sample. Overall, we found that a variety of different types of ARGs and viruses were persistent throughout this hospital wastewater treatment system, which can be released to the environment through effluent discharge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number153
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
StatePublished - 19 Feb 2020


  • antibiotic resistance
  • hospital wastewater
  • metagenomics
  • virus
  • wastewater treatment


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