Coselection for microbial resistance to metals and antibiotics in freshwater microcosms


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Bacterial resistances to diverse metals and antibiotics are often genetically linked, suggesting that exposure to toxic metals may select for strains resistant to antibiotics and vice versa. To test the hypothesis that resistances to metals and antibiotics are coselected for in environmental microbial assemblages, we investigated the frequency of diverse resistances in freshwater microcosms amended with Cd, Ni, ampicillin or tetracycline. We found that all four toxicants significantly increased the frequency of bacterioplankton resistance to multiple, chemically unrelated metals and antibiotics. An ampicillin-resistant strain of the opportunistic human pathogen Ralstonia mannitolilytica was enriched in microcosms amended with Cd. Frequencies of antibiotic resistance were elevated in microcosms with metal concentrations representative of industry and mining-impacted environments (0.01–1 mM). Metal but not antibiotic amendments decreased microbial diversity, and a weeklong exposure to high concentrations of ampicillin (0.01–10 mg l−1) and tetracycline (0.03–30 mg l−1) decreased microbial abundance only slightly, implying a large reservoir of antibiotic resistance in the studied environment. Our results provide first experimental evidence that the exposure of freshwater environments to individual metals and antibiotics selects for multiresistant microorganisms, including opportunistic human pathogens.