Environmental Pollution ( IF 6.792 ) Pub Date : 2021-02-13 , DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.116733 Marion Hutinel; Jerker Fick; D.G. Joakim Larsson; Carl-Fredrik Flach
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) plays an important role in the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes. In sewer systems, human-associated and environmental bacteria are mixed together and exposed to many substances known to increase HGT, including various antibacterial compounds. In wastewaters, those substances are most often detected below concentrations known to induce HGT individually. Still, it is possible that such wastewaters induce HGT, for example via mixture effects. Here, a panel of antibiotics, biocides and other pharmaceuticals was measured in filter-sterilized municipal and hospital wastewater samples from Gothenburg, Sweden. The effects on HGT of the chemical mixtures in these samples were investigated by exposing a complex bacterial donor community together with a GFP-tagged E. coli recipient strain. Recipients that captured sulfonamide resistance-conferring mobile genetic elements (MGEs) from the bacterial community were enumerated and characterized by replicon typing, antibiotic susceptibility testing and long read sequencing. While exposure to municipal wastewater did not result in any detectable change in HGT rates, exposure to hospital wastewater was associated with an increase in the proportion of recipients that acquired sulfonamide resistance but also a drastic decrease in the total number of recipients. Although, concentrations were generally higher in hospital than municipal wastewater, none of the measured substances could individually explain the observed effects of hospital wastewater. The great majority of the MGEs captured were IncN plasmids, and resistance to several antibiotics was co-transferred in most cases. Taken together, the data show no evidence that chemicals present in the studied municipal wastewater induce HGT. Still, the increased relative abundance of transconjugants after exposure to hospital wastewater could have implications for the risks of both emergence and transmission of resistant bacteria.