Effects of Climate Change on Waterborne Human Pathogens and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

EPA Grant Number: F13B20392
Title: Effects of Climate Change on Waterborne Human Pathogens and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
Investigators: Young, Suzanne Marie
Institution: University of South Florida
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2014 through August 1, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Ecology , Academic Fellowships


The investigation of how temperature variability affects zoonotic and waterborne human pathogens can establish a mechanistic understanding of the abiotic drivers of disease outbreaks and can be used to better predict hotspots where future disease outbreaks will occur.


Water snakes will be infected with zoonotic waterborne pathogens and exposed to shifts in environmental temperatures. Experiments will be conducted in environmental chambers and incubators in the labora- tory. Pathogen loads and fecal shedding will be quantified over time. Also, hosts will be injected with bacteria carrying resistance genes, and the rates of gene transfer within hosts will be quantified. In addition, the clinically relevant hospital-acquired bacteria vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) will be studied in terms of aquatic ecology—how the bacteria persist and survive in varying biotic and abiotic environmental conditions.

Expected Results:

Based on previous research, infected hosts will have higher resistance
to pathogen infection when they remain at a constant environmental temperature. Results should support the metabolic theory of ecol
ogy, that microbial metabolism is faster than that of larger organisms. Transmission rates of antibiotic resistance genes are expected to increase with environmental temperature shifts. Results will establish a relationship between temperature variability and resistance gene functions, which can contribute to future public health measures aimed at the problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance determinants should have a cost to fitness, burdening on other metabolic functions within pathogens, and resistant pathogens will be less successful when adapting to environmental stress.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

The results of this research may be applied to human populations affected by variability in temperatures and can help in preparing strategies to mitigate future disease outbreaks, including predicting when and where they may occur.

Supplemental Keywords:

antibiotic-resistant bacteria, climate change, waterborne pathogens

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final