CI4-WARS is a cyberinfrastructure (CI) being developed as a key step towards establishing an efficient and integrated network of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) incorporating CI for antibiotic resistance (AR) surveillance. AR is the ability of some bacteria to survive antibiotic treatment, a capability encoded by antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). AR rates are increasing globally, with the US Centers for Disease Control estimating 35,000 related deaths in the US per year in 2019, compared to 23,000 deaths per year in 2013. It is a grand challenge that calls for an interdisciplinary approach to combat its spread. Efficient and effective surveillance is needed to pinpoint where ARGs are spreading among bacteria and to inform ways to stop their spread. Combining next generation DNA sequencing with CI for monitoring patterns in ARG detection WWTPs is a promising and novel way to achieve this. WWTPs aggregate antibiotics excreted by all people in a community undergoing antibiotic therapy, as well as any AR bacteria or ARGs that are present on their skin or eliminated by them. Identifying anomalies in ARG patterns in wastewater could help identify potential outbreaks before they occur, better inform clinical use of antibiotics, and improve treatment practices to prevent release of ARGs to rivers and streams.

The objectives of this research are to: (1) Develop and demonstrate the CI4-WARS system using DNA sequencing data and associated metadata collected from a local WWTP; (2) Develop new computational tools to identify ARG occurrence patterns in the DNA sequencing data that indicate the risk of AR spreading and develop and apply new algorithms for identifying anomalies in these indicators that are indicative of emergence of new AR bacteria or outbreaks; and (3) Integrate the developed computational tools into CI4-WARS, establishing it as a one-stop service for surveying, evaluating, communicating, and reporting/alerting indicators of AR risk. Broader impact activities include student and professional training, annual workshops, free online videos, tutorials, and making CI4-WARS freely available on the web to maximize the benefit of CI4-WARS and facilitate adoption by the community.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Advanced CyberInfrastructure (ACI)
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Joseph Whitmeyer
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United States
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