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Rain catchment pond, near Tigotegui Village,
in an area near Fakara, Niger (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

Mahesh Jampani, researcher at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a water quality and modelling expert with over 12 years of experience in national and international research projects including water quality management, geochemistry, contaminant transport modelling, and socio-environmental impact assessment on water resources. Supported by the CGIAR AMR Hub, at IWMI he is responsible for investigating the sources, loads, transport and fate of antimicrobial compounds, antimicrobial resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibacterial resistance genes (ARGs) in water systems. Ekta Patel, scientist and communications manager at ILRI interviewed him about his research activities.

Ekta:  Mahesh your research activity is titled modelling AMR in water environments, can you share a little bit about your project at IWMI?
Mahesh: Based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, my research activities at IWMI are to understand and address the fate and transport of antimicrobial resistant bacteria (ARB) and antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) in aquatic environments. We initially reviewed and analyzed different sources of resistant bacteria and resistance genes and the factors and processes that could influence their evolution spread, fate and transport in water environments. This particular focus is to understand the antimicrobial resistance modelling knowledge that has been developed so far for water environments. The current knowledge on antimicrobial resistance modelling in aquatic environments is in the very early stages. Our research priorities are to provide background thinking for new model development and further develop a new model module that can be used to assess the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments. 

What water sources and environments will you be investigating? 
Mahesh: Various sectors around the world intensely use antimicrobials, including use by humans, in livestock production, aquaculture farming and crop agriculture – these can be termed as primary loadings of antimicrobials, resistant bacteria and resistant genes to the aquatic environments. The key sources and pathways are hospitals and their wastewaters, pharma industries and their effluents, domestic households and urban wastewater, wastes from livestock farms and croplands, the aquaculture industry, etc. The water sources we are looking for depending on the study area or study watershed, where one or more of these sources and pathways contribute to AMR pollution in one or more local water bodies: rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, aquifers, coastal environments, etc.

Are there specific plans to review the presence and distribution of resistant genes in aquatic environments irrespective of the bacteria that carry it

Mahesh: When we think of the type of antimicrobials used and the corresponding genes conferring resistance, selection and amplification in the environment primarily depends on the local or regional antimicrobial use and other environmental factors such as climate, improper waste treatment and disposal, etc. Many ARGs are readily available in the environment for bacteria to pick up, but only a few of them can cause disease and are able to carry multiple resistance genes to creating multi-drug resistant strains. It can be a laborious process to model all ARB, associate ARGs and the mobile elements, since including resistance gene transport in modelling is in the very early stages. Our idea is to employ sophisticated statistical models to scan and identify the dominant/critical antimicrobials, ARB and ARGs before in-depth investigations of a study region or watershed.

What do you hope to achieve from your investigations?  
Mahesh: We hope to understand the fate and transport processes that govern the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance in aquatic environments. More research is needed to investigate the ARB and ARGs occurrence and transformations in receiving waters. We are particularly interested in how different environmental conditions, ecological dynamics, hydrologic and climatic variability can shape the ARB and ARGs survival, fate and transport in the aquatic environments.