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ANSWER Report Summary

Project ID: 675530
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ANSWER (ANtibioticS and mobile resistance elements in WastEwater Reuse applications: risks and innovative solutions)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

In response to the increasing problem of water shortage, the reuse of treated urban wastewater is considered the most suitable and reliable alternative for sustainable water management and agricultural development. In spite of the benefits associated with this practice, major concerns currently exist, related to the adverse effects regarding contaminants of emerging concern, such as antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and resistance genes (A&ARB&ARGs). These are now considered as a serious public health problem by various international organizations and the European Commission. The overarching scientific objective of ANSWER is to develop well-trained ESRs, through innovative PhD projects, to unravel the highly complex factors driving the propagation of A&ARB&ARGs in the framework of urban wastewater reuse, in order to assess the relevant environmental/public health risks, able to face current and future challenges and to convert knowledge and ideas into products and services for socio-economic benefit. The project is structured on five specific scientific objectives, which include the understanding of the fate and transmission of A&ARB&ARGs within urban wastewater, soil, ground/surface water, and crops, validation of a suitable battery of bioassays for A&ARB&ARGs effects evaluation and hazard identification, development of a modelling framework capable of predicting the fate and assessing the risks associated with A&ARB&ARGs in activated sludge, soil, waters and crops, assessment of the efficiency of innovative technologies to minimize A&ARB&ARGs, and management and validation of the scientific and technological know-how generated in this project by academia, companies and industries that will work together to develop relevant and feasible policy guidelines. Undoubtedly, the society has many to gain from ANSWER including contributions towards sustainable water resources, clean environment, food safety and health protection. All these benefits are reflected in the way the project is structured already by including not only representatives from research and science organizations but also from companies, water/wastewater related authorities and other stakeholders like European advisory and policy-making bodies.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

During the first half of the project, significant progress has been achieved for all technical WPs and the specific scientific objectives of the project, which are reflected in the fifteen ESRs’ projects.
WP1: The work carried out has been devoted to the assessment of the prevalence and persistence of selected ARB&ARGs discharged through wastewater in soil, by employing microcosm assays and multi-parameter ecology approaches. Progress was also made with respect to the quantification of selected antibiotics and ARGs (including plasmids- and integrons-associated resistance genes [PI-ARGs]) in various crops, the aim being to assess their transmission from wastewater to soil and then to crops.
WP2: An in-depth literature review focusing on the application of various endpoints for screening biological effects related to antibiotics and their TPs in urban wastewater and surface water was carried out. A careful analysis of the state of the art provided precious input regarding the in vitro bioassays for the detection of several adverse biological effects. Preliminary experimental studies were conducted to determine which bioassays are the more appropriate to be used for assessing the biological effects of different water matrices.
WP3: Data collection and the determination of important parameters required for the establishment of mathematical models for predicting the fate and assessing the risks associated with A&ARB&ARGs in various environmental compartments, were performed. Data has been also collected to develop mathematical models to assess the impact of various conventional/innovative technologies on ARB&ARGs and on their subsequent accumulation in crops irrigated with wastewater treated by these technologies.
WP4: A systematic evaluation was carried out to identify how the qualitative characteristics of the wastewater treated by membrane bioreactor affect the fate of the selected antibiotics and ARB during treatment. Also, fifteen catalysts were synthetised and tested against inactivation of E. coli via heterogeneous photocatalysis. Much effort has been focused on the development and optimization of an innovative bench-scale LED-driven ultrafiltration photocatalytic membrane-based system for removing selected antibiotics in urban wastewater.
WP5: Data Collection Templates (DCTs) regarding A(TPs)&ARB&ARGs in various environmental matrices were developed. The DCTs are used throughout the project to facilitate collection of data from all ESRs’ projects, store all the results in a unified format and enable further analyses and comparisons. The development of harmonized DCTs was a crucial step towards the development of the ANSWER web-based database, which will constitute an essential basis for information exchange/data comparability on these microcontaminants.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Highly original aspects of the work and (expected) results that are leading/will lead in advances beyond the current state of the art are among others: determination of the fate of ARB&ARGs discharged through WW in soils, using microcosm assays/multi-parametric ecology approaches and evaluate AR phenotypes, genotypes and resistance/mobilization gene expression over time, in function of various relevant controlled variables; development of novel methods for the characterization of PI-ARGs assessment and quantification of ARB&ARGs during subsoil passages from surface water/matter to groundwater; identification of the potential impacts of subsoil physicochemical characteristics on the resistome, mobilome, and composition of bacterial communities analysed via metagenomic approaches; transcriptome analyses that will describe key targets involved in the selection and micro-evolution of AR during WW passages to the groundwater; development of mathematical models for the fate of ARB&ARGs in soil/ground/surface waters; determination of the potential uptake of indigenous microbiological populations present in surface water by microcosm assays; determination of taxonomic changes of endophytic bacteria related to the quality of water used for irrigation; design, development and application of a novel wastewater treatment technologies for minimizing A&ARB&ARGs; determination of the potential of TPs of A being active after their release in the environment; evaluation of the potential of TPs to induce various biological effects; development of an automated procedure for prioritisation of A/TPs based on their hazards as identified in ANSWER; determination of science-based ELVs for A/TPs in wastewater reuse.
The ANSWER consortium envisages a number of areas where the project is expected to have a long-term impact on the: (i) careers of the recruited researchers, (ii) institutions/organisations involved, (iii) European Research Area (ERA), and (iv) society. It is expected that the profound impact of ANSWER will be more obvious from 2018 onwards.

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