PAHs accelerate the propagation of antibiotic resistance genes in coastal water microbial community

Environ Pollut. 2017 Dec;231(Pt 1):1145-1152. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.07.067. Epub 2017 Sep 6.


Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) have been regarded as emerging contaminants and have attracted growing attention owing to their widespread presence in the environment. In addition to the well-documented selective pressure of antibiotics, ARGs have also become prevalent because of anthropogenic impacts. Coastal habitats are located between terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which are a hotspot for anthropogenic impacts. Excessive accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) has posed a serious threat to coastal habitats, but no information is available on the effect of PAHs on antibiotic resistance in the microbial community of coastal environments. In this study, the effect of two typical PAHs, naphthalene and phenanthrene, on antibiotic resistance propagation was investigated in a coastal microbial community. The results indicated that the presence of 100 mg/L of naphthalene or 10 mg/L of phenanthrene significantly enhanced the abundance of class I integrase gene (intI1), sulfanilamide resistance gene (sulI), and aminoglycosides resistance gene (aadA2) in the microbial community. Horizontal gene transfer experiment demonstrated that increased abundance of ARGs was primarily a result of conjugative transfer mediated by class I integrons. These findings provided direct evidence that coastal microbial community exposed to PAHs might have resulted in the dissemination of ARGs and implied that a more comprehensive risk assessment of PAHs to natural ecosystems and public health is necessary.

Keywords: Antibiotic resistance genes; Conjugative transfer; Horizontal genetic transfer; Integrons; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

MeSH terms

  • China
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / drug effects*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal / drug effects
  • Genes, Bacterial* / drug effects
  • Integrons / genetics
  • Microbial Consortia / genetics*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Seawater / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical