Health, Science

Will Lack Of Superbug Research Lead To Spread Of Super Virus?

Magnified 50,000 times by a scanning electron micrograph this image shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that has developed resistance to standard antibiotics.
Magnified 50,000 times by a scanning electron micrograph this image shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that has developed resistance to standard antibiotics. Photo: CDC | Janice Haney Carr.

Antimicrobial resistance refers to the development of bacterial strains, which are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, often called superbugs. The issue is well known, and well studied, in humans and livestock and is caused by an overuse of antibiotics in those populations.

Bacteria are notoriously hardy, and capable of evolving at much faster rates that multicellular life, which means they can adapt to antibiotics quite quickly. The problem is that the bacteria have too many opportunities to interact with the antibiotics, and thus develop defenses against them specifically.

According to a new research, while we do study the issue a lot, we don’t study the issue much as it pertains to wildlife. We have a handle on the dangers of antimicrobial resistance in humans or cows, but we know next to nothing about the same issue among deer, birds, fish, or other wildlife. The study found that only 210 other studies had addressed the issue, and so the researchers behind it are recommending that we engage in a great deal more research on the subject.

The threat they see is that the eradication of certain strains in human and livestock populations might not reflect the bacterial growth in the wild, where animals can continue to spread that bacteria, which could in turn lead it back to humans.

The root of the issue is in the contamination of water supplies, the principle way in which these bacteria spread, which is caused chiefly by water treatment systems not doing a good enough job of removing antibiotics and other contaminants from treated water.

The other issue is that we haven’t adopted a One Health model for this problem. The idea behind the One Health model argues that all organisms are interconnected and that the health of humans, animals, or ecosystems more generally, can impact each other. That model has helped to fight back against some viruses, but hasn’t been yet adapted to the study of antimicrobial resistance.

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Business, Conservation, Sustainability

Turning Sewage Water Into Something Drinkable

At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California.
At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California. Photo: Mechanoid Dolly | FlickrCC.

Dow Chemical Co. and Dupont Co., two American chemical industry giants that are 118 and 213 years old, respectively, recently announced a $130 billion merger deal that would take two years to complete. Led by activist investor Dan Loeb, hedge fund Third Point LLC suggested Dow Chemical split its specialty chemical and petrochemical businesses. As part of the deal, the merged company will split into three separate entities—focused on agriculture, specialty chemicals, and materials.

In the midst of this landmark deal, Dow is continuing to solidify its place as a leader in the industry—this time on behalf of California. As California continues to deal with one of the most severe droughts on record for the fourth year in a row, Orange County—with the help of Dow Chemical—is doubling down on its unusual strategy for drinking water.

Bloomberg recently toured the facility with Snehal Desai, Dow Chemical’s global business director of the water division. It’s the largest facility in the world that practices “toilet-to-tap” technology—a complex filtration system that transforms raw sewage into an end product that’s fresher than some bottled waters. The plant, located next to the county’s water treatment facility, pumps out 100 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough to supply almost 1 million Orange County residents. The county plans to increase the output of its groundwater replenishment system by approximately 50 percent.

“Recycled wastewater will probably be the single largest source of water for California over the next quarter century,” says executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies Tim Quinn. This goes for many other water-strapped regions of the world, including Australia, China, India, Israel, Spain, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa, where they have developed recycled wastewater systems for irrigation. Many areas are beginning to convert their systems to create fresh drinking water. San Diego also recently announced plans to generate 33 percent of its water from recycled sewage by 2035.

Dow Chemical has been a dominant player in advanced materials engineering for more than 100 years, generating $57 billion revenue a year in 180 countries in the world. “If not Dow, then who?” asks Desai. “The future water supply is a big-ass problem. We’ve got growing urban populations, growing industries, and dwindling resources. Who can tackle something of this magnitude? You need patience and horsepower to come up with solutions and to scale them. You can’t do that without big-boy company money.”

Ultimately, Desai believes that the same technology could accommodate individual households. Every city in the world will have to start rethinking the foundation of its water supply. “Not every city has an ocean, not everyone has good lakes and rivers,” Desai says. “But everybody’s got sewage.”