Antimicrobial resistant bacteria and genes, drivers, and risk in the aquatic environments of Yorkshire

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Civil Engineering


Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health threat, the aquatic environment is increasingly recognised as an important reservoir and source of transmission.

The mixing of selection drivers, pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria increases the risk of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) sharing between organism through Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) with the potential of producing resistant pathogens that could cause untreatable diseases

The media frequently reports on the release of treated and untreated waste by water companies, but agriculture, healthcare, industrial and historic mining sites all contribute to driving the selection of AMR.

There is currently no legal requirement to monitor AMR in discharge or the wider environment, research on rivers have been carried out in various countries including the UK but not in a Yorkshire River since 1971.

The River Wharfe at Ilkley, Yorkshire was the first inland river site in the UK to be given formal bathing designation with an application for the River Nidd being assessed for approval in 2024, making both river catchments of particular interest.

The project will consist of a 12-month assessment of antimicrobial resistant bacteria by culturing samples at multiple point on two rivers the Nidd and Wharfe to understand special-temporal fluctuations.
During the bathing season, which currently only monitors faecal indicators, metagenomics analysis will be carried out to get an in-depth understanding of the river resistome.
Chemical water quality characteristics including nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus and metals will also be collected.
The data will then be evaluated to identify correlations between the measured variables, land use and predicted pollution sources.

The conclusions can be used to inform local stakeholders including recreational water users, water companies and farmers, as well as contributing to future policy changes at higher levels.

Planned Impact

Water-WISER will train a cohort of 50 British research engineers and scientists and equip them to work in challenging environments both in the low-income settings of rapidly growing poor cities and in the changing urban environment of the UK, Europe and other regions with a historic endowment of aging infrastructure. The vision is for a generation of engineers with the skills to deliver the trans-disciplinary innovations needed to ensure that future water, waste and sanitation infrastructure is resilient to the stresses posed by rapid urbanisation, global climate change and increasingly extreme natural and man-made disasters. Our alumni will address the urgent need to re-imagine urban spaces as net contributors to ecological and environmental well-being rather than being net users of vital resources such as energy, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon. These new leaders will be an essential resource if the UK is to deliver on its commitment to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 6 which calls for universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services, within planetary and local ecological boundaries. This next generation of research engineers will enable UK-based engineering consultancies, manufacturers, and utility companies to grow their share of the expanding global market for water and waste services, for example; in the water services industry from 3% to 10% (an increase of £33 billion per annum) by 2030, and attract significant inward investment.
The research which Water-WISER cohorts enable will form the basis of new innovations in the design and delivery of resilient infrastructure and services. Innovations developed by Water-WISER graduates will inform how growing cities are designed and built in the global south and will be used to inform the re-engineering and replacement of the aging infrastructure on which the UK's water and waste services are currently reliant. Our alumni will form the new generation of leaders who will play a central role in securing a larger share of the international water and waste management consultancy market to UK consultancies. The network of expertise and skills created by Water-WISER will enhance potential for collaborations between major UK players (for example strengthening links between UK consultancy, the Department for International Development, and leading UK water agencies such as WaterAid and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor) and between UK companies and partners in the global south including international investors such as the World Bank, European Investment Bank, African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation. Graduates of Water-WISER will enter industry, academia and development agencies having spent a substantial period (minimum of six months) embedded in an industry or development partner organisation delivering their field-based research. Water-WISER students will thus gain a unique combination of trans-disciplinary training, field experience and cohort networking; they are destined for leadership roles in UK and international engineering and development consultancies, academia, international development banks, international agencies such as the United Nations and international non-governmental organisations.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S022066/1 31/05/2019 30/11/2027
2596562 Studentship EP/S022066/1 30/09/2021 29/09/2025 Karl Jones