Could this green gunk benefit rural Caithness?
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It may not look like much but scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have discovered a unique type of green algae that could greatly benefit Caithness' rural population.
The GCU research team claim that the algae could help reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) being spread through rural waterways and the wider environment and will be testing its efficacy throughout the country.
Project supervisor, Dr Ania Escudero, told the Groat that "Caithness and other parts of rural Scotland could benefit greatly from the research".
She said: “The primary driver for AMR development in the environment is the presence of antibiotics in bodies of water." The World Health Organization has listed AMR as a top 10 global health threat.
“Humans excrete a percentage of the prescribed antibiotics they take," said Dr Escudero. "This results in undegraded antibiotics entering the aquatic environment through wastewater treatment-plant effluent – a key environmental pathway for these compounds."
She says that "we need to break this pathway to improve health and wellbeing".
Many people living in rural Caithness rely on septic tanks and basic wastewater treatment plants, which creates a higher risk of antibiotics being discharged into the environment. The presence of these antibiotics in the environment increases the spread of resistance genes in different types of microorganisms.
Dr Escudero says 97 per cent of Scotland’s landmass is defined as rural. Close to 20 per cent of the population living in rural areas typically have only septic tanks or basic wastewater treatment plants. These plants usually do not have any tertiary treatment, so the antibiotics and AMR-carrying bacteria present in the effluent are discharged into the environment.
It is believed the unchecked rise and spread of AMR could result in the premature deaths of 10 million people a year by 2050. AMR happens when microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites, change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, antimalarials, and anthelmintics.
But now Dr Escudero and her team at GCU have been awarded a prestigious Medical Research Scotland PhD Studentship to explore how innovative microalgae technology could reduce the threat of antimicrobial resistance genes in Scotland's rural wastewater treatment plants.
Work previously undertaken at GCU with Scottish Water has demonstrated the potential of the microalgae Chlamydomonas acidophila – a novel species which requires light levels much lower than normal – to remove the antibiotics erythromycin and clarithromycin from wastewater effluents.
Dr Escudero added: "The microalgae we work with has already shown to be able to remove antibiotics from wastewater, so it might be a solution for reducing the AMR pressure in the environment.”