How is our environment affected by wide use of antibiotics?

When the COVID-19 pandemic arose, the use of antibiotics soared. Levels of use evened out as we learned more about how the virus is transmitted. People concerned about water, however, are still concerned about the large amounts of antibiotics introduced into the environment and how they might move into and through our water systems. Zihang Wang, a graduate student advised by Bill Arnold, is taking aim at this problem.

Growing up in China, Wang developed an interest in environmental engineering. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Shandong University, a public research university in Jinan, Shandong, China. That experience provided him with a solid, comprehensive background for graduate studies in environmental engineering in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering at the University of Minnesota. Now, Wang is researching the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the occurrence and removal of antibiotics during wastewater treatment.

For this current study, samples of influent and effluent were collected monthly from four major wastewater plants. The samples were analyzed using liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS), which allows researchers to determine the make-up of the sample and the concentration of specific analytes within the sample. This combined technique is sensitive and effective. For this project, 26 antibiotics were identified as analytes of interest. After analysis, researchers will report the impact of these antibiotic loadings on the environment.

Wang received a $3500 Hsiao Shaw-Lundquist Fellowship from UMN’s China Center to support his environmental engineering studies through the summer and fall of 2023. The Hsiao Shaw-Lundquist Fellowship was established in 2005 by Shaw-Lundquist Associates, Inc., and Jennie and Fred Hsiao, recognized leaders in the Chinese American community in Minnesota. Applicants are evaluated on academic standing, their potential in their field, and demonstration of a strong connection to or interest in China and Chinese culture.