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Appl Environ Microbiol. Nov 1994; 60(11): 4015–4021.
PMCID: PMC201930

Transfer of multiple drug resistance plasmids between bacteria of diverse origins in natural microenvironments.


Plasmids harboring multiple antimicrobial-resistance determinants (R plasmids) were transferred in simulated natural microenvironments from various bacterial pathogens of human, animal, or fish origin to susceptible strains isolated from a different ecological niche. R plasmids in a strain of the human pathogen Vibrio cholerae O1 E1 Tor and a bovine Escherichia coli strain were conjugated to a susceptible strain of the fish pathogenic bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida subsp. salmonicida in marine water. Conjugations of R plasmids between a resistant bovine pathogenic E. coli strain and a susceptible E. coli strain of human origin were performed on a hand towel contaminated with milk from a cow with mastitis. A similar conjugation event between a resistant porcine pathogenic E. coli strain of human origin was studied in minced meat on a cutting board. Conjugation of R plasmids between a resistant strain of the fish pathogenic bacterium A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida and a susceptible E. coli strain of human origin was performed in raw salmon on a cutting board. R plasmids in a strain of A. salmonicida subsp. salmonicida and a human pathogenic E. coli strain were conjugated to a susceptible porcine E. coli strain in porcine feces. Transfer of the different R plasmids was confirmed by plasmid profile analyses and determination of the resistance pattern of the transconjugants. The different R plasmids were transferred equally well under simulated natural conditions and under controlled laboratory conditions, with median conjugation frequencies ranging from 3 x 10(-6) to 8 x 10(-3). The present study demonstrates that conjugation and transfer of R plasmids is a phenomenon that belongs to the environment and can occur between bacterial strains of human, animal, and fish origins that are unrelated either evolutionarily or ecologically even in the absence of antibiotics. Consequently, the contamination of the environment with bacterial pathogens resistant to antimicrobial agents is a real threat not only as a source of disease but also as a source from which R plasmids can easily spread to other pathogens of diverse origins.

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