Estimating the Transfer Range of Plasmids Encoding Antimicrobial Resistance in a Wastewater Treatment Plant Microbial Community

Liguan Li, Arnaud Dechesne, Zhiming He, Jonas Stenløkke Madsen, Joseph Nesme, Søren J. Sørensen, Barth F. Smets*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) have been suggested as reservoirs and sources of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in the environment. In a WWTP ecosystem, human enteric and environmental bacteria are mixed and exposed to pharmaceutical residues, potentially favoring genetic exchange and thus ARG transmission. However, the contribution of microbial communities in WWTPs to ARG dissemination remains poorly understood. Here, we examined for the first time plasmid permissiveness of an activated sludge microbial community by utilizing an established fluorescent bioreporter system. The activated sludge microbial community was challenged in standardized filter matings with one of three multidrug resistance plasmids (pKJK5, pB10, and RP4) harbored by Escherichia coli or Pseudomonas putida. Different donor–plasmid combinations had distinct transfer frequencies, ranging from 3 to 50 conjugation events per 100000 cells of the WWTP microbial community. In addition, transfer was observed to a broad phylogenetic range of 13 bacterial phyla with several taxa containing potentially pathogenic species. Preferential transfer to taxa belonging to the predicted evolutionary host range of the plasmids was not observed. Overall, the ARG dissemination potential uncovered in WWTP communities calls for a thorough risk assessment of ARG transmission across the wastewater system, before identification of possible mitigation strategies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology Letters
Volume5
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)260-265
ISSN2328-8930
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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