Potential impacts of aquatic pollutants: sub-clinical antibiotic concentrations induce genome changes and promote antibiotic resistance

Louise Chow, Liette Waldron, Michael R. Gillings*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    58 Citations (Scopus)
    32 Downloads (Pure)


    Antibiotics are disseminated into aquatic environments via human waste streams and agricultural run-off. Here they can persist at low, but biologically relevant, concentrations. Antibiotic pollution establishes a selection gradient for resistance and may also raise the frequency of events that generate resistance: point mutations; recombination; and lateral gene transfer. This study examined the response of bacteria to sub-inhibitory levels of antibiotics. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Pseudomonas protegens were exposed kanamycin, tetracycline or ciprofloxacin at 1/10 the minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) in a serial streaking experiment over 40 passages. Significant changes in rep-PCR fingerprints were noted in both species when exposed to sub-inhibitory antibiotic concentrations. These changes were observed in as few as five passages, despite the fact that the protocols used sample less than 0.3% of the genome, in turn suggesting much more widespread alterations to sequence and genome architecture. Experimental lines also displayed variant colony morphologies. The final MICs were significantly higher in some experimental lineages of P. protegens, suggesting that 1/10 the MIC induces de-novo mutation events that generate resistance phenotypes. The implications of these results are clear: exposure of the environmental microbiome to antibiotic pollution will induce similar changes, including generating newly resistant species that may be of significant concern for human health.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number803
    Pages (from-to)803-1-803-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2015

    Bibliographical note

    Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • antibiotic resistance
    • microbiome
    • antibiotic pollution
    • SOS response
    • evolution


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