What can ‘fatbergs’ tell us about people’s health?

24 April 2018


Microbiologists have found antimicrobial resistant bacteria and parasite eggs in fatbergs.

A fatberg is a large clump of oil, human sewage and waste found in sewage systems. In 2017, a 130-tonne fatberg dubbed ‘The Beast’ was found blocking Whitechapel sewer and took nine weeks to clear.

Society member Dr Justin Pachebat, Senior Lecturer in microbial genomics at Aberystwyth University carried out a molecular analysis of fatberg samples for the BBC Science Unit.

“We found Campylobacter, Escherichia coli and Listeria - species which are a common cause of food poisoning in humans - and some antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria,” said Pachebat.

In addition to a wide range of bacteria, parasite eggs were also found in fatberg samples. The eggs were from either Alaria alata or Fasciola hepatica, both of which are zoonotic, but researchers said it is unlikely the eggs came from humans.

Tonight, Professor Jo Hamilton and Dr Pachebat will discuss their findings in ‘Fatberg Autopsy: Secrets of the Sewers’ on Channel 4 at 21:00 GMT.

Image: Thinkstock.