Department Surface Waters - Research and Management

Antibiotic resistance as an emerging environmental contaminant

Antibiotic resistance is on the rise, and this represents one of the greatest biological risks of our time. Environmental bacteria are a natural source of resistance genes. However, the environment is also increasingly contaminated by resistant bacteria released with wastewater or from agricultural sources.

We study how resistant bacteria and their resistance genes spread in the aquatic environment. We investigate the dynamics of resistance during wastewater treatment and study strategies for an improved elimination of resistant bacteria.


Dr. Helmut BürgmannMicrobial EcologyTel. +41 58 765 2165Send Mail
Karin BeckTel. +41 58 765 2150Send Mail
Dr. Feng JuTel. +41 58 765 2163Send Mail
Jangwoo LeeTel. +41 58 765 2290Send Mail
Lian YangTel. +41 58 765 2295Send Mail

Current Projects

We study the reserviors, fate and exposure of antibiotic resistance in Swiss rivers and streams that receives wastewater-borne resistance bacteria.
In situ expression patterns and gene exchange of Swiss wastewater resistome revealed by quantitative metatranscriptomics and metagenomics.
We survey the effect of sand filters and other biological post-treatment of ozonated wastewater on the release of antibiotic resistances from wastewater treatment plants in Switzerland.

Concluded Projects

Microbial resistance, exotoxicological impact and risk assessment of micropollutants in a mid-sized lake

Antibiotics resistance is increasingly seen as an emerging environmental contaminant.  In this project we studied antibiotic resistance in the wastewater stream of Lausanne, and the effect of the discharge of treated wastewater on the water and sediment of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. 


Leman 21 Project


SNF Prodoc module


  • Bürgmann H. (2014) Eintrag von Antibiotika und Antibiotikaresistenzen in Wassersysteme der Schweiz. Prävention und Gesundheitsförderung 2014, 9:185–190, doi:10.1007/s11553-014-0444-3

  • Czekalski N., Gascón Díez E., Bürgmann H. (2014) Wastewater as a point source of antibiotic-resistance genes in the sediment of a freshwater lake. The The ISME Journal (2014) 8, 1381–1390, doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.8

  • Cantas L., Shah Syed Q.A., Cavaco L.M., Manaia C.M., Walsh F., Popowska M., Garelick H., Bürgmann H., Sørum H. (2013) A brief multi-disciplinary review on antimicrobial resistance in medicine and its linkage to the global environmental microbiota. Frontiers in Microbiology, May 2013, Vol. 4, Art. 96, 1-14, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2013.00096

  • Czekalski N. (2013) Dissertation: Sources, Spreading and Fate of Antibiotic Resistance Genes and Resistant Bacteria in Vidy Bay, Lake Geneva, Switzerland, doi:10.5075/epfl-thesis-5637

  • Czekalski N., Berthold T., Caucci S., Egli A., Bürgmann B. (2012) Increased levels of multiresistant bacteria and resistance genes after waste water treatment and their dissemination into Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Frontiers in Microbiology, March 2012, Vol. 3, Art. 106, doi:10.3389/fmicb.2012.00106

Antibiotic resistant microorganisms in the drinking water system of Lausanne

The occurrence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and resistance genes was studied in the drinking water production facilities and distribution network of Lausanne. Raw water, different treatment stages and the distribution network were analyzed over the course of one year.


Eauservice Lausanne

Elimination of antibiotic resistant microorganisms from wastewater by membrane filtration

A pilot scale activated carbon powder – Ultrafiltration system was tested by the wastewater treatment plant of Lausanne. We investigated the prevalence of resistance at different stages of the WWTP and it’s temporal variability. The effectiveness of eliminating resistant bacteria by membrane  filtration was determined.


Frederik Hammes, Environmental Microbiology, Eawag


Service d’Assainissement  Lausanne