Environmental transmission of waterborne pathogens

Waterborne pathogens are a threat to global human health. In resource constrained settings, diarrheal illness is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality due to lack of access to adequate safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene. In the U.S., waterborne pathogens pose an emerging risk to public health as climate change increases the stress on aging water and sanitation infrastructure. The global spread of antimicrobial resistance further compounds this threat and will severely limit our ability to respond to infections. The Fuhrmeister Lab aims to understand transmission of pathogens through the environment and how antimicrobial resistance proliferates in order to develop adequate barriers at local and global scales.

Zoonotic Transmission of Enteric Pathogens

It is estimated that 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals. In the Fuhrmeister Lab, we are interested in how enteric pathogens can transfer between humans and animals through environmental pathways (soil, food, water, hands). In low-and middle-income countries, lack of access to adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) provisions exacerbates transmission since no barriers are present to prevent spread. We aim to understand how zoonotic pathogens move between hosts, at the molecular level, to inform targeted intervention strategies in order to improve community health.

Proliferation of Antimicrobial Resistance

The increased use of antibiotics in the past century has led to the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria around the world. Antibiotic resistance is a global threat since resistance can spread from the movement of goods or people, despite location-specific efforts to restrict access to antibiotics or use of antibiotics in livestock. In low and middle-income countries a high disease burden, inadequate WASH, and close proximity between humans and animals creates the ideal environment for resistance proliferation. Similar to zoonotic pathogens, there are many available environmental pathways for the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes. Our goal is to understand the role of animals and the environment in the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in humans.

Enrichment-based Sequencing

Metagenomic sequencing is a promising tool for studying pathogens that are difficult to culture because it allows us to assemble genomes or genetic elements directly from environmental samples. However, achieving sufficient sequencing depth of low abundance targets (e.g. pathogens) continues to be a challenge. We are exploring targeted sequencing approaches to enrich for pathogens and genomic elements in environmental metagenomes.