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Monitoring AMR in Water

Comprehensive monitoring of antimicrobial resistance in Australia’s drinking, waste and recreational waters

The challenge

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing threat to Australia’s environment, particularly its water resources.

Before we can address this urgent challenge, we need a more detailed understanding of how and where AMR is transmitted in complex systems. This includes understanding and mapping the distribution, movement and abundance of AMR organisms and genes in the water cycle, as well as identifying hotspots for AMR transmission. More information about how environmental conditions, cyanobacterial blooms, water treatment, and post-treatment storage practices contribute to AMR load and spread is also required.

Robust and reliable methods are needed to link AMR genes with the microbes that encode them and to differentiate AMR genes within intact cells or viable organisms from those present in the environment.

Industries that rely on environmental resources such as water must also build capacity in identifying management and risk reduction strategies to improve AMR control through effective and efficient interventions.

About the project

The project will develop and deploy tools to identify, quantify and track AMR through the water cycle. These tools will enable measurements of the distribution, dynamism and concentration of AMR genes and organisms in Australian drinking, waste and recreational waters.

By harnessing and developing approaches that link AMR genes with the organisms encoding them (and inferring the risk of horizontal AMR transfer), we can better understand the sources of inter-microbe AMR transfer in water and the potential for environmental amplification of AMR risk. This in turn will enhance our understanding of how the transportation, distribution and treatment of water affect the fate of AMR genes and organisms.

This work will provide the data required to undertake quantitative microbial risk assessments in water and wastewater and to assess the cost-effectiveness of management strategies to reduce AMR transmission.

What the project aims to achieve

  • Developing standardised methods and platforms for AMR monitoring in complex environmental matrices
  • Tracking AMR through water and the environment via longitudinal surveillance at key study sites
  • Exploring the impact of seasonal events, treatment performance, and various environmental factors on AMR levels
  • Developing genetic methods to track AMR through wastewater networks
  • Characterising AMR prevalence, transmission, growth, survival, viability and longevity in wastewater, recycled water, biosolids, sludge, biochar and post-treatment distribution systems.

Who will benefit

Everyone, from the water industry and irrigators to customers and consumers.

Project lead

Water Research Australia (WaterRA) is an independent collaborative research hub that delivers water research, innovation and capability to support public health and safeguard the sustainability of Australia’s water sources.

Project partners

WEHI, Curtin University, Melbourne Water and other WaterRA Water Industry Consortium partners University of South Australia, University of Wollongong, University of Queensland, University of Technology Sydney


4 years