Indirect evidence of transposon-mediated selection of antibiotic resistance genes in aquatic systems at low-level oxytetracycline exposures

Charles W. Knapp, Christina A. Engemann, Mark L. Hanson, Patricia L. Keen, Kenneth J. Hall, David W. Graham

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Subinhibitory levels of antibiotics can promote the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. However, it is unclear whether antibiotic concentrations released into aquatic systems exert adequate pressure to select populations with resistance traits. To examine this issue, 15 mesocosms containing pristine surface water were treated with oxytetracycline (OTC) for 56 days at five levels (0, 5, 20, 50, and 250,mu g L-1), and six tetra cycline-resistance genes (tet(B), tet(L), tet(M), tet(O), WO.), and tet(W)), the sum of those genes (tet(R)), "total" 16S-rRNA genes, and transposons (Tn916 and Tn 1545) were monitored using real-time PCR. Absolute water-column resistance-gene abundances did not change at any OTC exposure. However, an increase was observed in the ratio of tetR to 16SrRNA genes in the 250,mu g L-1 OTC units, and an increase in the selection rate of Tc-r genes (relative to 16S-rRNA genes) was seen when OTC levels were at 20,mu g L-1. Furthermore, team) and Tn916/1545 gene abundances correlated among all treatments (r(2) = 0.701, p = 0.05), and there were similar selection patterns of tetR and Tn916/1545 genes relative to the OTC level, suggesting a possible mechanism for retention of specific resistance genes within the systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5348-5353
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number14
Early online date11 Jun 2008
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2008



  • antibiotic resistance
  • oxytetracycline
  • transposon-mediated selection

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