BWRC and LEADERS Virtual Seminar Series – Satinder K. Brar

Sophie Felleiter

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Agnieszka Cuprys, Rama Pulicharla, and Satinder K. Brar.

Antibiotics are chemical compounds with a wide spectrum of applications against diseases caused by various bacterial infections in humans and livestock, as well as prevention and growth promotion purposes for the latter. For example, the yearly consumption of antibiotics was estimated to be 17,200 tonnes for the USA in 2017, and 131,000 tonnes across the world in 2013; by 2030, it was projected more than 200,000 tonnes across the globe. Moreover, significant quantities of the administered antibiotic doses (30–90%) are excreted unmetabolized as residual active forms. Many studies reported the residual antibiotics in different environmental compartments (surface water, groundwater, and soil) as a result of the runoff of domestic, agricultural, and industrial effluents. The long half-lives of the commonly used antibiotics were found to be persistent in the water sources. Thus, the continuous presence and exposure of these residual antibiotics potentially pose chronic adverse effects to water quality and aquatic life. Widespread use of antibiotics for different purposes alters microbial ecosystems and exerts selective pressure on susceptible bacteria and leads to the development of antibiotic resistance (AMR). This AMR is making the newly emerging infectious diseases ineffective to the existing antibiotics. In addition to resistance development, antibiotics could disrupt the native microbial system when they access the human body via the food chain and drinking water.

Antibiotics tend to complex with different metal ions due to the functional groups and the structural properties. These antibiotic-metal complexes have shown increased antibacterial activity compared to residual antibiotics. The occurring residual antibiotics can easily form complexes with the naturally existing metals of the different environmental compartments, including surface water, groundwater, soil and sediments. Wastewater effluents are the main point sources for the high levels of residual antibiotics, as well for the metals. Moreover, the secondary treatment process of the wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) contains diverse microbes which expose to the residual antibiotics and antibiotic-metal complexes where microorganisms capable of reproduction and survival in the presence of antibiotics, that is responsible for the development of AMR/antibiotic-resistant genes. Moreover, in WWTPs, the microbes are exposed to multiple antibiotics and metal complexes, hence there will be a high possibility of development of multiple drug resistance in microbes. So, the discharge of sewage overflow or effluent is the point source of both residual antibiotics and antibacterial-resistant bacteria/genes.
Approximately 80% of antibiotics across the globe are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture. Because of this nonhuman uses of antibiotics lead to the emergence of resistant pathogens. Without effective antibiotics, it will become extremely risky to survive/perform minor surgery. The main factors affecting the misuse of antibiotics due to lack of sufficient knowledge about appropriate use and peoples believe that antibiotics can quickly alleviate the symptoms of a disease. Developing new antibiotics against these resistant organisms does not progress at the same speed. More than anything, this situation requires immediate global coordinate action to control over the counter sale and mass usage, promote public awareness, and detailing the consequences of non-therapeutic use. The collected responsibility from local, national, regional and international levels is requires racing against the resistance. The real value of antibiotics is saving people from dying. Everything else is insignificant.


Prof. Satinder Kaur Brar is the James and Joanne Love Chair in Environmental Engineering at York University. Her research is on the intersecting areas of environmental engineering and its impact on the overall well-being of the global community. She primarily works in the two converging fields of value-addition of wastes and removal of emerging contaminants. Many national and international awards and honors have been bestowed on her that prove her research mettle. Recent ones being, in 2019, Eddy Principles/Processes Wastewater Medal winner, honored by the Water Environment Federation; in 2017, her research on “Novel and Advanced Hybrid Oxidation and Enzymatic Technologies for Emerging Trace Environmental Contaminants” were awarded the Grand Prize in University Research for Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES. She leads the Bioprocessing and NanoEnzyme Formulation Facility (BANEFF) at York University which has successfully led to the training of 69 HQP (including 45 undergraduates and summer interns). Currently, she is supervising 4 PDFs, 2 research associates, one research assistant, 11 Ph.D.s and 2 M.Scs. She has published more than 385 articles, edited 11 books and at least 52 invited talks to her credit.


Dr. Rama Pulicharla is a postdoctoral visitor at the Department of Civil Engineering, York University. Her research mainly focuses on understanding the behavior of diverse emerging contaminants in different environmental compartments. She earned her Ph.D. in Water science from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS), studying the fate of emerging contaminants in the wastewater/water sources. She received Eddy Principles/Processes Wastewater Medal, honored by the Water Environment Federation, for her research in 2019. She received many scholarships for her doctoral and postdoctoral research. She holds a master’s degree in pharmaceutics from Kakatiya University and a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Osmania University, India. She worked as a research associate at INRS and as a postdoctoral fellow at Laval University, with a particular focus to understand the interactions of emerging contaminants with metals and organic matter and their effects on aquatic systems. She has over 7 years of experience in analytical chemistry, particularly the metal and organic contaminants analysis in the environmental samples. She also has multidisciplinary research experience in the field of waste management to use as a renewable source.


Dr Agnieszka Cuprys’ research interest is mostly focused on the most eco-friendly and cost-effective methods to improve wastewater treatment plant efficiency, which was the topic of her recently obtained PhD. By combining her chemical knowledge with biotechnological expertise gained during her Master studies, she was able to test various biological, chemical or physical techniques of water treatment. Due to her engagement, she received Mitacs Globalink Research Award, which allowed her to conduct part of her experiments at Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Aas, Norway.  She is a co-author of 10 publications, which includes 6 research papers, and three book chapters. Currently, she holds the position of a  research assistant at Medical University of Gdansk, Poland.