Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016NJ382B

Molecular mechanisms by which mercury contamination increases antibiotic resistance in the environment

Institute: New Jersey
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2017-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $10,000

Principal Investigators: Nicole Lloyd, Tamar Barkay

Abstract: New Jersey’s waterways are one of the most important natural resources for our state. Unfortunately, many have become contaminated with mercury (Hg) due to industrial dumping. Previous research demonstrates a relationship between high levels of Hg contamination and increased number of antibiotic resistance genes in bacteria. Heavily mercury contaminated sites therefore contribute to the emerging threat of antibiotic resistance gene pools in the environment. My preliminary research shows that fish (Fundulus heteroclitus) exposed to higher concentrations of Hg had an increased number of bacteria with multiple drug resistances. The proposed research will examine the connection between Hg exposure and antibiotic resistance in Berry’s Creek, NJ, one of the most badly mercury contaminated sites in the world2. I hypothesize that genes encoding Hg and antibiotic resistance are in close proximity on mobile genetic elements in the fish gut microbiome; this facilitates genetic exchange among bacteria, and therefore propagates drug resistance in the environment. Using a metagenomic analysis of fish gut ingesta samples from Berry’s Creek and a non-contaminated site, Great Bay, I will determine the types of bacteria and the presence of resistance genes in the samples. Then, I will use qPCR will quantify the number of resistance genes in both Berry’s Creek and Great Bay samples. The results will determine whether (i) Hg and antibiotic resistance genes are genetically linked, and (ii) confirm the abundance of antibiotic resistance genes in direct response to Hg contamination. This research will provide information about the emerging threat of antibiotic resistance in New Jersey’s waterways.