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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2010 Sep;7(9):1089-97. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2010.0540.

Occurrence of tcrB, a transferable copper resistance gene, in fecal enterococci of swine.

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Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas 66506-5606, USA.


High concentration of copper, fed as copper sulfate, is often used to increase growth rates in swine. Bacteria exposed to copper may acquire resistance, and in Enterococcus faecium and Enterococcus faecalis, a plasmid-borne transferable copper resistance (tcrB) gene that confers copper resistance has been reported. Our objectives were to determine the occurrence of tcrB in fecal enterococci from weaned piglets fed diets with a normal supplemental level (16.5 ppm) or an elevated supplemental level (125 ppm) of copper and to determine the association of tcrB with copper, erythromycin, and vancomycin resistance. A total of 323 enterococcal isolates were examined and 15 (4.6%) isolates (14 E. faecium and 1 E. faecalis) were positive for tcrB. Fifteen tcrB-positive and 15 randomly chosen tcrB-negative isolates from piglets fed the normal supplemental level of copper were tested for erm(B), tet(M), vanA, and vanB genes and susceptibilities to copper, erythromycin, tetracyclines, and vancomycin. All tcrB-positive and -negative isolates contained erm(B) and tet(M), but not vanA and vanB. The mean minimum inhibitory concentration of copper for tcrB-positive (21.1 mM) was higher (p < 0.001) compared with tcrB-negative isolates (6.1 mM). All isolates were resistant to erythromycin and tetracyclines and susceptible to vancomycin. The transferability of the tcrB gene from tcrB-positive strains to tcrB-negative strains was demonstrated by conjugation. The potential link between tcrB and antibiotic resistance genes and the propensity of enterococci to transfer tcrB to other strains raises the possibility that copper supplementation may exert selection pressure for antibiotic-resistant enterococci. This study is the first report on the occurrence of the tcrB gene in enterococci isolated from swine in the United States.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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