Antimicrobial resistance in the environment


Development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is fast growing and one of the biggest threats to global health today. However, antimicrobial resistant bacteria (ARB) and antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) are thought to have existed in the environment since before the introduction of commercially produced antibiotics. Increased human impact on the environment have increased the prevalence of AMR in terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments. The very high usage levels of antibiotics in clinical settings, agriculture and in aquaculture have contributed significantly to the increased level of AMR in the environment. The WHO recommends advocates an interdisciplinary approach to combat major threats to human health, such as antibiotic resistant bacteria. We call this the One Health Concept.

The presence of resistant bacteria in different natural environments, such as soil, fresh water, sea sediments and wild animals, has only been sporadically studied in a Norwegian context. This means that there is a great need for more knowledge about antimicrobial resistant bacteria (ARB) and antimicrobial resistant genes (ARGs) in Norway. GenØk is located in the Arctic and we have a unique access to surveying the Arctic regions for AMR, hence contributing to our understanding of AMR spread in pristine environments. Consequently, we have performed a number of reports from different environments and we continue to investigate the interface between human activities and nature.

In our research group, we combine phenotypic studies with molecular tools and metagenomics analysis to map and monitor the prevalence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and antimicrobial resistant genes in different terrestrial- and aquatic environmental setting. We have investigated whales, seals, semidomesticated reindeer, aquatic sediments and arctic agriculture. Currently our running projects are concentrated on human waste water and the role of microplastics in spreading AMR through our water systems.

Active research projects

  • MicroPlastResist: This project is funded through the Research Council of Norway and the South African National Research Foundation through the SANOCEAN bilateral programme. The aim is to investigate how the different amount and types of microplastics in waste water from Norway and South Africa, differ and how the different types of microplastics drives AMR. The project leader is Dr. Odd-Gunnar Wikmark. The partners, in addition to GenØk, are North West University and University of Zululand – Both South Africa.
  • shAMRock: Together with The Unversity of Chemistry and Technology, Prague, the project Shocking Antimicrobial Resistance (shAMRock) is aimed at optimizing molecular methods for monitoring waste water treatment facilities in Norway and The Czech Republic. Through a series of workshops, we also facilitate science communication through world cafés to better understand Czech and Norwegian public perception of AMR. The project is funded through EEA and Norway Grants. GenØks Project leader is Dr. Odd-Gunnar Wikmark. More information can be found here and

GenØk is one of several partners in an international network on antimicrobiel resistance in the environment with funding from JPIAMR (JPIAMR Surveillance Network). In this network, efforts are being made to systematize methods and map relevant indicators for environmental studies of antibiotic resistance. The project manager is William Gaze (University of Exeter).

Completed projects

GenØk has previously carried out several mapping projects of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic resistance genes in the environment on behalf of the Norwegian Environment Agency, see reports from the projects further down.



Antimicrobial resistance in the marine environment: MIC profiles of bacteria isolated from whale and seal faecesProject report, M-1260|2019, Commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency, February 2019.
Venter, H. (2018), GenØk, Tromsø, Norway.

Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance Marker Genes (ARMG) in Selected Environments in Norway – Reindeer, M909|2017
Commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency, December 2017.
Nordgård, L. et al (2017) GenØk, 21 pages

Antimicrobial resistance in selected environments in Norway M-736/2017
Commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency, April 2017.
Nordgård, L. et. al. (2017) GenØk, 43 pages

Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance Marker Genes (ARMG) in Selected Environments in Norway M-675|2016
Commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency, December 2016.
Nordgård, L. et al (2016)

Photo: Alexandre Buisse (Nattfodd). Creative commons licensed.