Treating wastewater with solar irradiation shows promise in reducing two E. coli strains but a resilient strain persists

Treating wastewater with solar irradiation shows promise in reducing two E. coli strains but a resilient strain persists

Nada Al-Jassim and coworkers conducted experiments to verify whether solar irradiation can be used to kill E.coli strains in wastewater.

ABSTRACT : This study examined the decay kinetics and molecular responses of two Escherichia coli strains upon solar irradiation. The first is E. coli PI-7, a virulent and antibiotic-resistant strain that was isolated from wastewater and carries the emerging NDM-1 antibiotic resistance gene. The other strain, E. coli DSM1103, displayed lower virulence and antibiotic resistance than E. coli PI-7. In a buffer solution, E. coli PI-7 displayed a longer lag phase prior to decay and a longer half-life compared with E. coli DSM1103 (6.64 ± 0.63 h and 2.85 ± 0.46 min vs 1.33 ± 0.52 h and 2.04 ± 0.36 min). In wastewater, both E. coli strains decayed slower than they did in buffer. Although solar irradiation remained effective in reducing the numbers of both strains by more than 5-log10 in <24 h, comparative genomics and transcriptomics revealed differences in the genomes and overall regulation of genes between the two E. coli strains. A wider arsenal of genes related to oxidative stress, cellular repair and protective mechanisms were upregulated in E. coli PI-7. Subpopulations of E. coli PI-7 expressed genes related to dormancy and persister cell formation during the late decay phase, which may have accounted for its prolonged persistence. Upon prolonged solar irradiation, both E. coli strains displayed upregulation of genes related to horizontal gene transfer and antibiotic resistance. Virulence functions unique to E. coli PI-7 were also upregulated. Our findings collectively indicated that, whereas solar irradiation is able to reduce total cell numbers, viable E. coli remained and expressed genes that enable survival despite solar treatment. There remains a need for heightened levels of concern regarding risks arising from the dissemination of E. coli that may remain viable in wastewater after solar irradiation.

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Written by : Nada Al-Jassim, David Mantilla-Calderon, Tiannyu Wang, and Pei-Ying Hong

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia

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