The dissemination of antibiotics and their corresponding resistance genes in treated effluent-soil-crops continuum, and the effect of barriers

Mitiku Mihiret Seyoum, Olabiyi Obayomi, Nirit Bernstein, Clinton F. Williams, Osnat Gillor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Irrigation with treated effluent is expanding as freshwater sources diminish, but hampered by growing concerns of pharmaceuticals contamination, specifically antibiotics and resistance determinants. To evaluate this concern, freshwater and effluent were applied to an open field that was treated with soil barriers including plastic mulch together with surface and subsurface drip irrigation, cultivating freshly eaten crops (cucumbers or melons) for two consecutive growing seasons. We hypothesized that the effluent carries antibiotics and resistance determinants to the drip-irrigated soil and crops regardless of the treatment. To test our hypothesis, we monitored for antibiotics abundance (erythromycin, sulfamethoxazole, tetracycline, chlortetracycline, oxytetracycline, amoxicillin, and ofloxacin) and their corresponding resistance genes (ermB, ermF, sul1, tetW, tetO, blaTEM and qnrB), together with class 1 integron (intl1), and bacterial 16S rRNA, in water, soil, and crop samples taken over two years of cultivation. The results showed that an array of antibiotics and their corresponding resistance genes were detected in the effluent but not the freshwater. Yet, there were no significant differences in the distribution or abundance of antibiotics and resistance genes, regardless of the irrigation water quality, or crop type (p > 0.05), but plastic-covered soil irrigated with effluent retained the antibiotics oxytetracycline and ofloxacin (p < 0.05). However, we could not detect significant correlations between the detected antibiotics and the corresponding resistance genes. Overall, our findings disproved our hypothesis suggesting that treated effluent may not carry antibiotics resistance genes to the irrigated soil and crops yet, plastic mulch covered soil retain some antibiotics that may inflict long term contamination.

Original languageEnglish
Article number151525
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 10 Feb 2022


  • Agriculture
  • Antibiotics
  • Drip irrigation
  • Plastic mulch
  • Resistance genes
  • Treated wastewater

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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