Occurrence and prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in urban karst groundwater systems based on targeted resistome analysis

Document Type


Publication Title

Science of the Total Environment


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global crisis threatening human, animal, and environmental health. The natural environment, specifically water resources, has been recognized as a reservoir and dissemination pathway for AMR; however, urban karst aquifer systems have been overlooked. This is a concern as these aquifer systems provide drinking water to about 10 % of the global population; yet, the urban influence on the resistome in these vulnerable aquifers is sparingly explored. This study used high-throughput qPCR to determine the occurrence and relative abundance of antimicrobial resistant genes (ARG) in a developing urban karst groundwater system in Bowling Green, KY. Ten sites throughout the city were sampled weekly and analyzed for 85 ARGs, as well as seven microbial source tracking (MST) genes for human and animal sources, providing a spatiotemporal understanding of the resistome in urban karst groundwater. To further understand ARGs in this environment, potential drivers (landuse, karst feature type, season, source of fecal pollution) were considered in relation to the resistome relative abundance. The MST markers highlighted a prominent human influence to the resistome in this karst setting. The concentration of targeted genes varied between the sample weeks, but all targeted ARGs were prevalent throughout the aquifer regardless of karst feature type or season, with high concentrations captured for sulfonamide (sul1), quaternary ammonium compound (qacE), and aminoglycoside (strB) antimicrobial classes. Higher prevalence and relative abundance were detected during the summer and fall seasons, as well as at the spring features. Linear discriminant analysis suggested that karst feature type had higher influence on ARGs in the aquifer compared to season and the source of fecal pollution had the least influence. These findings can contribute to the development of effective management and mitigation strategies for AMR.



Publication Date


Funding Information

This research was funded by the Cave Research Foundation, The Geological Society of America, Tennessee Technological University Water Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (Project No. 5040-12630-006-00D) and through a cooperative agreement between USDA and Western Kentucky University (Project Number: 5040-12630-006-30-S).