Exposure to Environmental Levels of Pesticides Stimulates and Diversifies Evolution in Escherichia coli toward Higher Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most challenging issues in public health. Antibiotics have been increasingly used not only for humans and animals but also for crop protection as pesticides. Thus, antibiotics often coexist with pesticides in some environments. To investigate the effects of the co-occurring, nonantibiotic pesticides on the development of antibiotic resistance, we conducted long-term exposure experiments using an Escherichia coli K-12 model strain. The results reveal that (1)
... he exposure to pesticides (in mg/L) alone led to the emergence of mutants with significantly higher resistance to streptomycin; (2) the exposure to pesticides (in μg/L) together with a subinhibitory level (in high μg/L) of ampicillin synergistically stimulated the selection of ampicillin resistance and the cross-resistance to other antibiotics (i.e., ciprofloxacin, chloramphenicol, and tetracycline). Distinct and diversified genetic mutations emerged in the resistant mutants selected from the coexposure to both pesticides and ampicillin. The genetic mutations likely caused a holistic transcriptional regulation (e.g., biofilm formation, oxidative stress defense) when grown under antibiotic stress and led to increased antibiotic resistance. Together, these findings provide important fundamental insights into the development of antibiotic resistance and the resistance mechanisms under environmentally relevant conditions where antibiotics and nonantibiotic micropollutants coexist.