New ₹9.3 crore study to check antibiotic resistance in Ganga

The project, expected to last two years, will identify sources of Eschericia coli.

August 29, 2019 12:15 am | Updated 08:56 am IST - NEW DELHI

The project aims at indicating the type of contamination in the river and the threat to human health.

The project aims at indicating the type of contamination in the river and the threat to human health.

The government has commissioned a ₹9.3 crore study to assess the microbial diversity along the entire length of the Ganga and test if stretches of the 2,500 km long river contain microbes that may promote “antibiotic resistance”.

The project, expected to last two years, is to be undertaken by scientists at the Motilal Nehru Institute of Technology, Allahabad; the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur; Sardar Patel Institute of Science & Technology, Gorakhpur, as well as start-up companies, Phixgen and Xcelris Labs. The latter two provide genome sequencing services, which in this case will involve mapping the genomes of the microbes sampled.

The aims of the research project, according to a note by the National Mission for Clean Ganga under the Jal Shakti Ministry is to indicate the type of “contamination” (sewage and industrial) in the river and “threat to human health (antibiotic resistance surge)”, identifying sources of Eschericia coli, a type of bacteria that lives in the gut of animals and humans. While largely harmless, some species have been linked to intestinal disease as well as aggravating antibiotic resistance.

‘Entire stretch’

There have been several studies that have looked at microbial diversity in the Ganga but these have been isolation. No study has looked at the “entire stretch” of the river, according to Atya Kapley, a scientist at NEERI and part of the project.

In 2014, researchers from Newcastle University in the U.K. and IIT-Delhi sampled water and sediments at seven sites along the Ganga in different seasons. They reported in the peer-reviewed Environmental Science and Technology that levels of resistance genes that lead to “superbugs” were about 60 times greater during the pilgrimage months of May and June than at other times of the year.

A 2017 report commissioned by the Union Department of Biotechnology and the U.K. Research Council underlined that India had some of the highest antibiotic resistance rates among bacteria that commonly cause infections.

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