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Microbiology. 2005 Oct;151(Pt 10):3181-3195. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.27794-0.

Persister cells mediate tolerance to metal oxyanions in Escherichia coli.

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Biofilm Research Group, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4.
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4.


Bacterial cultures produce subpopulations of cells termed 'persisters', reputedly known for high tolerance to killing by antibiotics. Ecologically, antibiotics produced by competing microflora are only one potential stress encountered by bacteria. Another pressure in the environment is toxic metals that are distributed ubiquitously by human pollution, volcanic activity and the weathering of minerals. This study evaluated the time- and concentration-dependent killing of Escherichia coli planktonic and biofilm cultures by the water-soluble metal(loid) oxyanions chromate (CrO4(2-)), arsenate (AsO4(2-)), arsenite (AsO2-), selenite (SeO3(2-)), tellurate (TeO4(2-)) and tellurite (TeO3(2-)). Correlative to previous reports in the literature, control antibiotic assays indicated that a small proportion of E. coli biofilm populations remained recalcitrant to killing by antibiotics (even with 24 h exposure). In contrast, metal oxyanions presented a slow, bactericidal action that eradicated biofilms. When exposed for 2 h, biofilms were up to 310 times more tolerant to killing by metal oxyanions than corresponding planktonic cultures. However, by 24 h, planktonic cells and biofilms were eradicated at approximately the same concentration in all instances. Coloured complexes of metals and chelators could not be generated in biofilms exposed to CrO4(2-) or TeO3(2-), suggesting that the extracellular polymeric matrix of E. coli may have a low binding affinity for metal oxyanions. Viable cell counts at 2 and 24 h exposure revealed that, at high concentrations, all of the metal oxyanions had killed 99 % (or a greater proportion) of the bacterial cells in biofilm populations. It is suggested here that the short-term survival of <1 % of the bacterial population corresponds well with the hypothesis that a small population of persister cells may be responsible for the time-dependent tolerance of E. coli biofilms to high concentrations of metal oxyanions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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