Microplastic pollution increases gene exchange in aquatic ecosystems
© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Under embargo until 26 February 2019 in compliance with publisher policy
Pollution by microplastics in aquatic ecosystems is accumulating at an unprecedented scale, emerging as a new surface for biofilm formation and gene exchange. In this study, we determined the permissiveness of aquatic bacteria towards a model antibiotic resistance plasmid, comparing communities that form biofilms on microplastics vs. those that are free-living. We used an exogenous and red-fluorescent E. coli donor strain to introduce the green-fluorescent broad-host-range plasmid pKJK5 which encodes for trimethoprim resistance. We demonstrate an increased frequency of plasmid transfer in bacteria associated with microplastics compared to bacteria that are free-living or in natural aggregates. Moreover, comparison of communities grown on polycarbonate filters showed that increased gene exchange occurs in a broad range of phylogenetically-diverse bacteria. Our results indicate horizontal gene transfer in this habitat could distinctly affect the ecology of aquatic microbial communities on a global scale. The spread of antibiotic resistance through microplastics could also have profound consequences for the evolution of aquatic bacteria and poses a neglected hazard for human health.
MAA is supported by a scholarship from Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica, and HPG is supported by the Leibniz SAW project MikrOMIK. UK is supported through an MRC/BBSRC grant (MR/N007174/1) and received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 751699.
Vol. 237, pp. 253 - 261
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