Metals, microplastics, and antibiotic resistance

Microplastics on the beach
Microplastics on the beach

News: Misuse and overuse of antibiotics with farm animals (especially to promote growth) and with humans “is a main reason behind [the] evolution of antibiotic resistant pathogens.” This is an increasing threat to human health–in both poor and rich countries.

However, other accumulating pollutants in our environment interact to make the problem bigger and make it worse.

Metals–like mercury, lead, zinc, copper, and cadmium–accumulate to dangerous levels in the environment and cause bacteria to become metal resistant which, in turn, leads to gene transfer to bacterial pathogens in humans.

And, this effect is magnified in a marine environment by the growing amount of microplastics. Microplastics have been found to assist this gene transfer–it happens much faster with microbes living on microplastics as compared to free living microbes.

What does this all mean?

Oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water polluted with metals, antibiotics, human pathogens, and microplastics (and that’s most major bodies of water) are a toxic brew that promotes multidrug resistant human pathogens. It is a real and emerging threat to those who swim, boat, walk along the beach, and otherwise spend recreation time by the water … or just eat fish.

We need to be aware, to understand, and to realize there are multiplying consequences to our collective and continuing environmental damage.

Learn more: Co-selection of multi-antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens in metal and microplastic contaminated environments: An emerging health threat (Md. Imran, et al., Chemosphere, January 2019).

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