Environmental and clinical isolates of Pseudomonas aeruginosa show pathogenic and biodegradative properties irrespective of their origin

Environ Microbiol. 1999 Oct;1(5):421-30. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-2920.1999.00052.x.


Virulence properties of pathogenic bacteria, as well as resistance to antibiotics, are thought to arise through a specialization process favoured by the strong selection pressure imposed in clinical treatments. Nevertheless, in the case of opportunistic pathogens, it is unclear whether strains can be classified into virulent and non-virulent isolates. Clones of the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa do not seem to be associated to a particular biovar or pathovar, which suggests that virulence characteristics in opportunistic pathogens may already be present in environmental (non-clinical) isolates. We have explored this possibility, studying environmental isolates (mainly from oil-contaminated soils) and clinical isolates (from bacteraemia and cystic fibrosis patients) of P. aeruginosa. All environmental strains were found to actively efflux quinolones, which are synthetic antibiotics not expected to be present in the environment. These strains contained multidrug resistance determinants, were capable of invading epithelial cells and presented genes from the quorum-sensing and type III secretion systems. Some of them expressed either haemolytic or proteolytic activities or both, characteristics considered to be typical of virulent strains. All the strains tested, of clinical or environmental origin, could use alkanes (oil hydrocarbons) as a carbon source. Our results suggest that clinical and non-clinical P. aeruginosa strains might be functionally equivalent in several traits relevant for their virulence or environmental properties. Selection of clinically relevant traits, such as antibiotic resistance or cellular invasiveness, in opportunistic pathogens present in soil ecosystems is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dogs
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Kidney / cytology
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Pseudomonas Infections / microbiology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / drug effects
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / metabolism*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / pathogenicity*
  • Quinolones / metabolism
  • Virulence


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Quinolones