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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Mar;77(5):1601-7. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02506-10. Epub 2011 Jan 7.

Extended-spectrum Beta-lactamase gene sequences in gram-negative saprophytes on retail organic and nonorganic spinach.

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Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, 201 Hildebrand Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-7360, USA.


A substantial proportion of infections caused by drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria (GNB) in community and health care settings are recognized to be caused by evolutionarily related GNB strains. Their global spread has been suggested to occur due to human activities, such as food trade and travel. These multidrug-resistant GNB pathogens often harbor mobile drug resistance genes that are highly conserved in their sequences. Because they appear across different GNB species, these genes may have origins other than human pathogens. We hypothesized that saprophytes in common human food products may serve as a reservoir for such genes. Between July 2007 and April 2008, we examined 25 batches of prepackaged retail spinach for cultivatable GNB population structure by 16S rRNA gene sequencing and for antimicrobial drug susceptibility testing and the presence of extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) genes. We found 20 recognized GNB species among 165 (71%) of 231 randomly selected colonies cultured from spinach. Twelve strains suspected to express ESBLs based on resistance to cefotaxime and ceftazidime were further examined for bla(CTX-M) and bla(TEM) genes. We found a 712-bp sequence in Pseudomonas teessidea that was 100% identical to positions 10 to 722 of an 876-bp bla(CTX-M-15) gene of an E. coli strain. Additionally, we identified newly recognized ESBL bla(RAHN-2) sequences from Rahnella aquatilis. These observations demonstrate that saprophytes in common fresh produce can harbor drug resistance genes that are also found in internationally circulating strains of GNB pathogens; such a source may thus serve as a reservoir for drug resistance genes that ultimately enter pathogens to affect human health.

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