Catalan Water Research Institute research and innovation for the sustainable use of water


01/11/2020 - 31/05/2023

Antibiotics, resistance genes and associated risks in groundwater

The presence of antibiotics in groundwater is considered an issue of emerging concern, simply because their behavior (migration, transport, persistence) in the subsurface is unknown. These are chemically complex compounds, whose geochemical behavior is currently not very predictable, since their own structure allows various types of reactions according to the specific conditions of the hydrogeological environment, which is intrinsically highly heterogeneous. At the same time, the presence of antibiotics directly affects the microbial communities generating resistance to them in their genetic structure. The presence of these genes, as well as that of antibiotics in underground water, generates a public health problem worldwide. The hydrogeological issue is complicated while there is no evidence, nor conceptual models, that allow studying and predicting the formation of resistance genes based on the occurrence and concentration of antibiotics in the subsoil and their persistence in the environment according to the geochemical conditions, nor transport in the aquifer.

At a social and legislative level, these gaps in knowledge prevent the establishment of efficient action criteria for the protection of human and environmental health. Therefore, the spatial and temporal variability of the two pollutants (chemical and microbiological) further complicates the transposition of scientific evidence into precise policies aimed at the zero-pollution targets proposed in the EU’s Horizon Europe.

The objective of this proposal in the EUROPA RESEARCH 2020 call is to carry out preparatory actions for the drafting of a competitive proposal in the context of the ERC Advanced Grants based on the scientific issues presented. The purpose of the ERC will be to investigate the processes that control the presence and migration of antibiotics and resistance genes in the hydrogeological environment from a geochemical perspective and to assess the risk associated with the use of this resource in the supply of domestic and agricultural uses. This research involves a background of social involvement and environmental policy, given that it fits into the legislative efforts to define the procedures for monitoring, control and protection against this type of pollution. My research projects since 2014 focus on both aspects, having been funded by an “EU Water JPI” call and two from the “Retos” program of the Spanish State.

For this reason, this aid for the presentation of an ERC Advanced Grant within a period of 2 years entails the commitment of the researcher to write a solid and competent proposal. The funding obtained will be used for visits by European experts, for example researchers from the French and British geological services (BRGM, BGS), to compare the “state-of-the-art” in the scientific field, as well as the progress of the legislative initiatives and the research considerations that support them. Interviews with Spanish technicians in the field of hydrological management, both public and private, are also planned.

It is also proposed to hold seminars at ICRA for experts at national level, and internationally if feasible, to involve the center’s scientific team in the ERC grant application. At the same time, establish an area of ​​discussion that benefits the development of the project proposal and creates synergies for the benefit of the future project.


Mas Pla, Josep


Mas Pla, Josep