The Travelling Particles: Investigating microplastics as possible transport vectors for multidrug-resistant E. coli in the Weser estuary (Germany)

, Song Jessica, Jongmans Elanor, Mauder Norman, Imirzalioglu Can, Wichels Antje, Gerdts Gunnar.

The prevalence of multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria in aquatic environments has been a long withstanding health concern, namely extended-spectrumbeta-lactamase (ESBL) producing Escherichia coli. Given increasing reports on microplastic (MP) pollution in these environments, it has become crucial to better understand the role of MP particles as transport vectors for such multidrug-resistant bacteria. In this study, an incubation experiment was designed where particles of both synthetic and natural material (HDPE, tyre wear, and wood) were sequentially incubated atmultiple sites along a salinity gradient from the Lower Weser estuary (Germany) to the offshore island Helgoland (German Bight, North Sea). Following each incubation period, particle biofilms andwater samples were assessed for ESBL-producing E. coli, first by the enrichment and detection of E. coli using Fluorocult® LMX Broth followed by cultivation on CHROMAgar™ ESBL media to select for ESBLproducers. Results showed that general E. coli populations were present on the surfaces of wood particles across all sites but nonewere found to produce ESBLs. Additionally, neither HDPE nor tyrewear particles were found to harbour any E. coli. Conversely, ESBL-producing E. coli were present in surrounding waters from all sites, 64% of which conferred resistances against up to 3 other antibiotic groups, additional to the beta-lactam resistances intrinsic to ESBL-producers. This study provides a first look into the potential of MP to harbour and transport multidrug-resistant E. coli across different environments and the approach serves as an important precursor to further studies on other potentially harmful MP-colonizing species.

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