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Urine fertilizer: Aging effectively protects against transfer of antibiotic resistance

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RESEARCHERS at the University of Michigan have said that recycled and aged human urine can be used as a fertilizer with low risks of transferring antibiotic resistant DNA to the environment,

  The research is a key finding in efforts to identify more sustainable alternatives to widely used fertilizers that contribute to water pollution. Their high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus can spur the growth of algae, which can threaten our sources of drinking water.

  Urine contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—key nutrients that plants need to grow. Today, municipal treatment systems don’t totally remove these nutrients from wastewater before it’s released into rivers and streams. At the same time, manufacturing synthetic fertilizer is expensive and energy intensive.

  The new research shows that the practice of “aging” collected urine in sealed containers over several months effectively deactivates 99% of antibiotic resistant genes that were present in bacteria in the urine.

  “Based on our results, we think that microorganisms in the urine break down the extracellular DNA in the urine very quickly,” said Krista Wigginton, U-M associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and corresponding author on a study published today in Environmental Science and Technology.

  “That means that if bacteria in the collected urine are resistant to antibiotics and the bacteria die, as they do when they are stored in urine, the released DNA won’t pose a risk of transferring resistance to bacteria in the environment when the fertilizer is applied.”

  Previous research has shown that antibiotic-resistant DNA can be found in urine, raising the question of whether fertilizers derived from it might carry over that resistance.

  The researchers collected urine from more than 100 men and women and stored it for 12 to 16 months. During that period, ammonia levels in the urine increase, lowering acidity levels and killing most of the bacteria that the donors shed. Bacteria from urinary tract infections often harbor antibiotic resistance.

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