Toxicity of triclosan, penconazole and metalaxyl on Caulobacter crescentus and a freshwater microbial community as assessed by flow cytometry

Environ Microbiol. 2009 Jul;11(7):1682-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2009.01893.x. Epub 2009 Feb 23.


Biocides are widely used for domestic hygiene, agricultural and industrial applications. Their widespread use has resulted in their introduction into the environment and raised concerns about potential deleterious effects on aquatic ecosystems. In this study, the toxicity of the biocides triclosan, penconazole and metalaxyl were evaluated with the freshwater bacterium Caulobacter crescentus and with a freshwater microbial community using a combination of single- and double-stain flow cytometric assays. Growth of C. crescentus and the freshwater community were repressed by triclosan but not by penconazole or metalaxyl at concentrations up to 250 μM. The repressive effect of triclosan was dependent on culture conditions. Caulobacter crescentus was more sensitive to triclosan when grown with high glucose at high cell density than when grown directly in sterilized lake water at low cell density. This suggests that the use of conventional growth conditions may overestimate biocide toxicity. Additional experiments showed that the freshwater community was more sensitive to triclosan than C. crescentus, with 10 nM of triclosan being sufficient to repress growth and change the phylogenetic composition of the community. These results demonstrate that isolate-based assays may underestimate biocide toxicity and highlight the importance of assessing toxicity directly on natural microbial communities. Because 10 nM of triclosan is within the range of concentrations observed in freshwater systems, these results also raise concerns about the risk of introducing triclosan into the environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alanine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Alanine / toxicity
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / toxicity*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Caulobacter crescentus / drug effects*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Culture Media / chemistry
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Triazoles / toxicity*
  • Triclosan / toxicity*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Culture Media
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Triazoles
  • metalaxyl
  • penconazole
  • Triclosan
  • Glucose
  • Alanine