Antibiotic resistance: The truth lies in the sludge

 

Genevieve experiencing Vietnamese culture at Sam Mountain in the Mekong Delta

Did you know that about 30% of people here in Oregon have septic tanks? Why is that relevant to this week’s topic you ask? Our guest this week on Inspiration Dissemination, Genevieve Schutzius is an Environmental engineering masters student in the College of Engineering interested in waste water management. Genevieve is working with Dr. Tala Navab-Daneshmand as part of the Navab lab. The lab’s mission is to identify the fate and transmission pathways of pathogenic and antibiotic-resistant bacteria from wastewater systems to environmental reservoirs, and to design engineered systems and interventions to reduce the associated human health risks.

 

 

A beautiful sunrise over the Saigon River in District 4 of Ho Chi Minh City.

Recently, Genevieve spent a term abroad working on a project that is in collaboration with Dr. Mi Nguyen at Nguyen Tat Thanh University in Vietnam. The purpose of the study is to identify the human health risks associated with the spread of infectious bacteria resistant to antibiotics in areas with high septic tank use. Specifically, Genevieve’s project is to identify the fate of antibiotic resistance in soils and waters as recipients of untreated septic sludge.

 

Genevieve sampling a sludge-filled canal using a fashioned “sampling stick” from an abandoned bamboo fishing pole in the northwest of Ho Chi Minh City.

She did this by collecting 55 soil samples from canals, rivers, parks, and fields in Ho Chi Minh City, then plated dilutions of these samples to quantify the number of E. coli, which is a common indicator of fecal contamination. She selected E. coli colonies and brought them back to her lab at OSU, where she performed the disk diffusion method. The disk diffusion method involves plating isolated bacteria across an entire agar plate and see how it grows in the presence of disks containing antibiotics. She tested them against 9 different antibiotics, finding that 69% of 129 isolates were resistant to more than two! She is also conducting a microcosm study to see how resistant bacteria thrives in soils and in different temperature environments. Soon, she will determine the presence of absence of antibiotic-resistant genes in her isolated bacteria using PCR to amplify genes.

Samples mixed with bacteria including chosen E. coli isolates (circled).

Why Vietnam? Well Vietnam has high levels of septic tank use and out of 11 Asian countries surveyed, Vietnam also had the highest levels of antibiotic resistance in patients due to the ease at which they are acquired. A survey Genevieve assisted in implementing while in Vietnam opened her eyes to just how easy it is to get antibiotics and how much they are used among citizens.

 

A plate showing how resistant this particular E.coli isolate is to ampicillin (full resistance), streptomycin (full resistance), gentamicin (mostly resistant), and imipenem (not resistant – “last resort” antibiotic.

 

Originally from Colorado, Genevieve acquired her undergraduate degree in environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder where she became interested in waste water management. She always knew that she wanted to end up in the pacific northwest and after finding out about Oregon State Universities program she decided that the environmental engineering program suited her interests. Following completion of her masters degree she hopes to continue to travel and find work in the humanitarian/non-profit public health and sanitation sector.

In Genevieve’s free time, she enjoys experimenting with her cooking, typically with different types of Indian spices. She also enjoys partaking in activities such as yoga, snowboarding, playing piano, and singing.

 

Tune in to 88.7 FM at 7:00 PM Sunday evening to hear more about Genevieve and her research on antibiotic resistance in areas of high septic tank use, or stream the program live.

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