D. Mantilla-Calderon, P.-Y. Hong
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, volume 83, issue 13, article number e00640-17, (2017)
Persister cells, Bacterial decay, Extracellular DNA decay, Antibiotic resistance genes, Horizontal gene transfer, Wastewater treatment
The presence of emerging biological pollutants in treated wastewater effluents has gained attention due to increased interest in water reuse. To evaluate the effectiveness of the removal of such contaminants by the conventional wastewater treatment process, the fate and decay kinetics of NDM-1-positive Escherichia coli strain PI7 and its plasmid-encoded antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) were assessed in microcosms of anaerobic and aerobic sludge. Results showed that E. coli PI7 decayed at a significantly lower rate under anaerobic conditions. Approximate half-lives were 32.4 ± 1.4 h and 5.9 ± 0.9 h in the anaerobic and aerobic microcosms, respectively. In the aerobic microcosms, after 72 h of operation, E. coli PI7 remained detectable, but no further decay was observed. Instead, 1 in every 10,000 E. coli cells was identified to be recalcitrant to decay and persist indefinitely in the sludge. ARGs associated with the E. coli PI7 strain were detected to have transferred to other native microorganisms in the sludge or were released to the liquid fraction upon host decay. Extracellular DNA quickly degraded in the liquid fraction of the aerobic sludge. In contrast, no DNA decay was detected in the anaerobic sludge water matrix throughout the 24-h sampling period. This study suggests an increased likelihood of environmental dispersion of ARGs associated with anaerobically treated wastewater effluents and highlights the potential importance of persister cells in the dissemination of E. coli in the environment during reuse events of treated wastewater. © 2017 American Society for Microbiology.