Scientists find antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Chinese treatment plants

Dec. 16, 2013

HOUSTON, Texas — The bacteria, which carry the gene NDM-1, are escaping purification and breeding in the plants.

HOUSTON, Texas — Research by scientists at Rice, Nankai and Tianjin Universities published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters has found antibiotic-resistant "superbug" bacteria at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China, according to an article from

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The bacteria carry NDM-1, a multi-drug resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, and are escaping purification and breeding in the treatment plants, the article reported.

"It's scary," said Rice University environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez, who led the study. "There's no antibiotic that can kill them. We only realized they exist just a little while ago when a Swedish man got infected in India, in New Delhi. Now, people are beginning to realize that more and more tourists trying to go to the upper waters of the Ganges River are getting these infections that cannot be treated."

Bacteria with this resistant gene have been found on every continent besides Antarctica, according to the article.

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"We often think about sewage treatment plants as a way to protect us, to get rid of all of these disease-causing constituents in wastewater," said Alvarez. "But it turns out these microbes are growing. They're eating sewage, so they proliferate. In one wastewater treatment plant, we had four to five of these superbugs coming out for every one that came in."

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