Mobility of bacteria, viruses and antibiotic resistance genes in karst groundwater (PrePat)

Gallus spring with cracks and fissures typical for karst aquifers

Climate change is exacerbating water scarcity and negatively impacting water quality through heavy rain events and droughts in many regions of the world. A better understanding of the spread of microbiological contaminants in groundwater is important to counteract this.

The DFG funded project PrePat ("Development and application of non-pathogens and extracellular DNA for predicting transport and attenuation of pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes in groundwater") aims to improve the understanding of the transport of bacteria, viruses and antibiotic resistance genes in groundwater. For this purpose, non-pathogenic microorganisms are introduced into the groundwater and their transport behavior is analyzed. The transport distances in the subsurface range from 3 to 12 km. In some experiments, the microorganisms are transported through the aquifer for several days before they emerge again. In addition, bacteria, viruses, and antibiotic resistance genes present during potential contamination events will be detected, their sources identified, and conclusions drawn about their mobility.

The studies will evaluate the effects of different aquifer conditions and input scenarios on the transport and attenuation of microorganisms in the subsurface. Event-based studies will allow the lessons learned to be tested using data from natural contamination events. The project will be supported by local agencies and water utilities.

Finally, a selection of non-pathogenic microorganisms and extracellular DNA will be designated as tracers under specific environmental conditions that can be used to study the transport and retention behavior of bacteria, viruses, and antibiotic resistance genes in other watersheds. Their use can answer important groundwater management and risk assessment questions in the future.


Stange, C.; Tiehm, A.Occurrence of antibiotic resistance genes and microbial source tracking markers in the water of a karst spring in Germany. The Science of the total environment 742: 140529 (2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140529