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Minimal selective concentrations of tetracycline in complex aquatic bacterial biofilms

Journal article
Authors Sara Lundström
Markus Östman
Johan Bengtsson-Palme
Carolin Rutgersson
Malin Thoudal
Triranta Sircar
Hans Blanck
Karl Martin Eriksson
Mats Tysklind
Carl-Fredrik Flach
D. G. Joakim Larsson
Published in Science of the Total Environment
Volume 553
Pages 587-95
ISSN 0048-9697
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Infectious Medicine
Pages 587-95
Language en
Keywords Antibiotic contaminants; Antibiotic resistance; Environmental emission limits; Minimal selective concentration; Risk assessment
Subject categories Microbiology, Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology


Selection pressure generated by antibiotics released into the environment could enrich for antibiotic resistance genes and antibiotic resistant bacteria, thereby increasing the risk for transmission to humans and animals. Tetracyclines comprise an antibiotic class of great importance to both human and animal health. Accordingly, residues of tetracycline are commonly detected in aquatic environments. To assess if tetracycline pollution in aquatic environments promotes development of resistance, we determined minimal selective concentrations (MSCs) in biofilms of complex aquatic bacterial communities using both phenotypic and genotypic assays. Tetracycline significantly increased the relative abundance of resistant bacteria at 10 μg/L, while specific tet genes (tetA and tetG) increased significantly at the lowest concentration tested (1 μg/L). Taxonomic composition of the biofilm communities was altered with increasing tetracycline concentrations. Metagenomic analysis revealed a concurrent increase of several tet genes and a range of other genes providing resistance to different classes of antibiotics (e.g. cmlA, floR, sul1, and mphA), indicating potential for co-selection. Consequently, MSCs for the tet genes of ≤ 1 μg/L suggests that current exposure levels in e.g. sewage treatment plants could be sufficient to promote resistance. The methodology used here to assess MSCs could be applied in risk assessment of other antibiotics as well.

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