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Mol Ecol. 2017 Oct;26(19):5318-5333. doi: 10.1111/mec.14255. Epub 2017 Aug 14.

Aquatic animals promote antibiotic resistance gene dissemination in water via conjugation: Role of different regions within the zebra fish intestinal tract, and impact on fish intestinal microbiota.

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Institute of Health and Environmental Medicine, Key Laboratory of Risk Assessment and Control for Environment and Food Safety, Tianjin, China.
Institute of Medical Equipment, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Tianjin, China.


The aqueous environment is one of many reservoirs of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). Fish, as important aquatic animals which possess ideal intestinal niches for bacteria to grow and multiply, may ingest antibiotic resistance bacteria from aqueous environment. The fish gut would be a suitable environment for conjugal gene transfer including those encoding antibiotic resistance. However, little is known in relation to the impact of ingested ARGs or antibiotic resistance bacteria (ARB) on gut microbiota. Here, we applied the cultivation method, qPCR, nuclear molecular genetic marker and 16S rDNA amplicon sequencing technologies to develop a plasmid-mediated ARG transfer model of zebrafish. Furthermore, we aimed to investigate the dissemination of ARGs in microbial communities of zebrafish guts after donors carrying self-transferring plasmids that encode ARGs were introduced in aquaria. On average, 15% of faecal bacteria obtained ARGs through RP4-mediated conjugal transfer. The hindgut was the most important intestinal region supporting ARG dissemination, with concentrations of donor and transconjugant cells almost 25 times higher than those of other intestinal segments. Furthermore, in the hindgut where conjugal transfer occurred most actively, there was remarkable upregulation of the mRNA expression of the RP4 plasmid regulatory genes, trbBp and trfAp. Exogenous bacteria seem to alter bacterial communities by increasing Escherichia and Bacteroides species, while decreasing Aeromonas compared with control groups. We identified the composition of transconjugants and abundance of both cultivable and uncultivable bacteria (the latter accounted for 90.4%-97.2% of total transconjugants). Our study suggests that aquatic animal guts contribute to the spread of ARGs in water environments.


antibiotic resistance bacteria; antibiotic resistance genes; conjugal transfer; dissemination; fish gut; plasmid

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