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Resilient Environmental Bioprocess Engineering Lab Using molecular biotechnology to address current challenges in environmental engineering

Current Projects

Impact of Copper Biocides on the Environmental Resistome

The abundance of antibiotic resistant and multidrug resistant bacteria has increased steadily for the past several decades in both clinical and environmental settings. Rising levels of antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments has become a significant concern due to the increased potential for bacterial mobility, with several hundred antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) being consistently detected in surface waters alone. Copper-based biocides are being increasingly used in agriculture to increase plant yield and stop the spread of microbial pathogens. However, because copper resistance genes and ARGs often co-exist on the same mobile plasmids, these copper biocides may be acting as selective pressures driving the acquisition and dissemination of ARGs in aquatic systems. Given the threat to public health and environmental water quality posed by antibiotic resistance, it is imperative to understand how current agricultural practices may be augmenting the environmental resistome.

Civil Engineering Design as a Driver of WWTP Microbiome Structure and Function

Antibiotic resistance rates have increased dramatically in both clinical and environmental settings over the past several decades. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are becoming increasingly known as “hotspots” of antibiotic resistance, as they provide an environment rich in bacteria, antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), and a selective pressure of antibiotic contaminants.  Elucidating the role WWTP treatment structures may play in the distribution and dissemination of ARGs is crucial to understanding the contribution of these “hotspots” to environmental antibiotic resistance, but remains poorly understood. In this project, we aim to determine how current civil engineering practices may be selecting for unique antibiotic resistome “fingerprints” across US and international WWTPs.

 

Microbiomes of the Built Environment as a Predictor of Stormwater Microbial Contamination

The relationships among environmental microbiomes, the built environment, and human health are complex and often difficult to tease apart. It has become increasingly clear that urban microbiomes (e.g., the microbial communities associated with indoor environments, architecture, water treatment plants, etc) directly impact environmental health and ecology. This is particularly true with regards to dissemination and proliferation of microbial pathogens and nucleic acid contaminants (e.g., ARGs). Stormwater events may be acting as a significant driver of pathogen transport into natural water systems, presenting a significant threat to human health. Thus, the overarching goal of this project is to understand how urban microbiomes can be a predictor of pathogen loading into natural waters during and after stormwater events.