Triclosan Promotes Conjugative Transfer of Antibiotic Resistance Genes to Opportunistic Pathogens in Environmental Microbiome

Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Nov 1;56(21):15108-15119. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c05537. Epub 2022 Oct 17.


Although triclosan, as a widely used antiseptic chemical, is known to promote the transmission of antibiotic resistance to diverse hosts in pure culture, it is still unclear whether and how triclosan could affect the transmission of broad-host-range plasmids among complex microbial communities. Here, bacterial culturing, fluorescence-based cell sorting, and high-throughput 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing were combined to investigate contributions of triclosan on the transfer rate and range of an IncP-type plasmid from a proteobacterial donor to an activated sludge microbiome. Our results demonstrate that triclosan significantly enhances the conjugative transfer of the RP4 plasmid among activated sludge communities at environmentally relevant concentrations. High-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing on sorted transconjugants demonstrates that triclosan not only promoted the intergenera transfer but also the intragenera transfer of the RP4 plasmid among activated sludge communities. Moreover, triclosan mediated the transfer of the RP4 plasmid to opportunistic human pathogens, for example, Legionella spp. The mechanism of triclosan-mediated conjugative transfer is primarily associated with excessive oxidative stress, followed by increased membrane permeability and provoked SOS response. Our findings offer insights into the impacts of triclosan on the dissemination of antibiotic resistance in the aquatic environmental microbiome.

Keywords: Legionella spp.; activated sludge microbiome; antibiotic resistance genes; conjugation; opportunistic pathogens; triclosan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Conjugation, Genetic
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Microbiota*
  • Plasmids
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Sewage / microbiology
  • Triclosan* / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Sewage
  • Triclosan