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CARe-led consortium gets 1.4 million euros for environmental monitoring of resistance

JPI-AMR has granted 1.4 million euros in funding to EMBARK - a CARe-led consortium aiming to improve and simplify monitoring of antibiotic resistance in the environment. "Essentially we will generate data on the natural background resistance in different environments and provide a framework for more efficient and less costly monitoring" says Johan Bengtsson-Palme, coordinator of the EMBARK program.

At present, there is a lack of comprehensive reference data for resistance in most environments, meaning that there is little knowledge on the range of background abundance and prevalence of antibiotic resistance genes occurring naturally. This is a big obstacle for environmental monitoring efforts, as it is hard to assess if detected resistance types and levels are atypical. Furthermore, the few milieus where we have reasonable reference data are biased towards, for example, sewage and wastewater treatment plants. Outside of those settings we know little about typical resistance patterns in unpolluted environments.

JPI-AMR has now granted funding of €1.4 million to the EMBARK consortium, consisting of scientists from Sweden, Germany, France, China and Pakistan. The consortium is led by Johan Bengtsson-Palme, active at CARe at University of Gothenburg.

- Over the next few years, we will work on solving the issues hampering resistance monitoring in the environment, he says. The strength of this consortium is that we have high-level scientists with widely different backgrounds on board. Therefore we are able attack this problem from many different directions.

A primary goal of EMBARK is to establish a baseline for how common resistance is in the environment and what resistance types that can be expected where. That background data will then underpin efforts to standardize different methods for resistance surveillance and identify high-priority target that should be used for efficient monitoring. In addition, EMBARK will develop and evaluate methods to detect new resistance factors and thereby provide an early-warning system for emerging resistance threats.

- Together, this will result in a new monitoring scheme that will be designed so that it can be used modularly depending on the available resources, says Johan Bengtsson-Palme. We hope that this will pay off in the form of a much more efficient use of money and time and enable environmental monitoring of resistance where it might be most needed, namely in low-income countries where hygiene standards are often worse than in Europe.

EMBARK will be funded from 2020 through 2022. In addition to the consortium leader, it involves epidemiologists Dr. Etienne Ruppé (France) and Rabaab Zahra (Pakistan), German expert on antibiotic resistance in water environments Prof. Thomas Berendonk and computational biologists Dr. Sofia Forslund (Germany) and Dr. Luis Pedro Coelho (China).

- This team has lots of unique skills to tackle the environmental monitoring issue, and I am very proud and honored to be working with these talented scientists, says Johan Bengtsson-Palme. Establishing a coherent monitoring scheme is a key factor for efficient monitoring, and this in turn is essential to limit resistance development in the future. Here, we need to take a one-health approach to understand and control antibiotic resistance also outside of the healthcare setting.

Johan Bengtsson-Palme about the project: