Evaluating the effects of chlortetracycline on the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a simulated river water ecosystem

Muñoz-Aguayo J, Lang KS, LaPara TM, González G, Singer RS


Antibiotics and antibiotic metabolites have been found in the environment, but the biological activities of these compounds are uncertain, especially given the low levels that are typically detected in the environment. The objective of this study was to estimate the selection potential of chlortetracycline (CTC) on the antibiotic resistance of aerobic bacterial populations in a simulated river water ecosystem. Six replicates of a 10-day experiment using river water in continuous flow chemostat systems were conducted. Each replicate used three chemostats, one serving as a control to which no antibiotic was added and the other two receiving low and high doses of CTC (8 microg/liter and 800 microg/liter, respectively). The addition of CTC to the chemostats did not impact the overall level of cultivable aerobic bacteria (P = 0.51). The high-CTC chemostat had significantly higher tetracycline-resistant bacterial colony counts than both the low-CTC and the control chemostats (P < 0.035). The differences in resistance between the low-CTC and control chemostats were highly nonsignificant (P = 0.779). In general a greater diversity of tet resistance genes was detected in the high-CTC chemostat and with a greater frequency than in the low-CTC and control chemostats. Low levels of CTC in this in vitro experiment did not select for increased levels of tetracycline resistance among cultivable aerobic bacteria. This finding should not be equated with the absence of environmental risk, however. Low concentrations of antibiotics in the environment may select for resistant bacterial populations once they are concentrated in sediments or other locations.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology 73:5421-5425