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Keywords:

  • antibiotic resistance;
  • biofilm;
  • sediment;
  • metals;
  • co-selection;
  • environment

Abstract

Anthropogenic-derived sources of selection are typically implicated as mechanisms for maintaining antibiotic resistance in the environment. Here we report an additional mechanism for maintaining antibiotic resistance in the environment through bacterial exposure to metals. Using a culture-independent approach, bacteria sampled along a gradient of metal contamination were more tolerant of antibiotics and metals compared to bacteria from a reference site. This evidence supports the hypothesis that metal contamination directly selects for metal tolerant bacteria while co-selecting for antibiotic tolerant bacteria. Additionally, to assess how antibiotic and metal tolerance may be transported through a stream network, we studied antibiotic and metal tolerance patterns over three months in bacteria collected from multiple stream microhabitats including the water column, biofilm, sediment and Corbicula fluminea (Asiatic clam) digestive tracts. Sediment bacteria were the most tolerant to antibiotics and metals, while bacteria from Corbicula were the least tolerant. Differences between microhabitats may be important for identifying reservoirs of resistance and for predicting how these genes are transferred and transported in metal-contaminated streams. Temporal dynamics were not directly correlated to a suite of physicochemical parameters, suggesting that tolerance patterns within microhabitats are linked to a complex interaction of the physicochemical characteristics of the stream.