Researchers from ECU’s School of Science and School of Medical and Health Sciences found that soils containing even small amounts of lead, manganese or aluminium contained bacteria with antibiotic resistance.
Researcher Dr Annette Koenders said previous studies carried out overseas had shown a link between high levels of metal contamination in soil and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
“But our study, undertaken in Western Australia, shows that even low concentrations of metals are correlated with increased antibiotic resistance in bacteria,” Dr Koenders said.
“This antibiotic resistance in bacteria occurs as part of a naturally occurring response to protect from pollutants or stress, especially toxic metals.”
Soil samples were collected from 80 sites on residential properties around the State.
The samples were analysed for the presence of 14 different metals.
The DNA of the bacteria in each soil sample was analysed for the presence of genes associated with antibiotic resistance.
Dr Koenders said the results showed that an assessment of the metals present in soil should form part of environmental approvals for new developments.
“This is particularly important when developing aged care facilities or schools and childcare centres and where people grow their own food,” she said.
“This is because as well as being more vulnerable to bacterial infection, children and older people, on average, are in contact with soil more often because children are crawling and playing on the ground, whereas for older people they are likely to spend more time gardening and growing home grown produce.”