Heavy-Metal and Antibiotic Resistance in the Bacterial Flora of Sediments of New York Bight

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Heavy-Metal and Antibiotic Resistance in the Bacterial Flora of Sediments of New York Bight

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PMC
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Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Ecology
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Abstract

The New York Bight extends seaward some 80 to 100 miles (ca. 129 to 161 km) from the Long Island and New Jersey shorelines to the edge of the continental shelf. Over 14 × 106 m3 of sewage sludge, dredge spoils, acid wastes, and cellar dirt are discharged into this area each year. Large populations of Bacillus sp. resistant to 20 μg of mercury per ml were observed in Bight sediments contaminated by these wastes. Resistant Bacillus populations were much greater in sediments containing high concentrations of Hg and other heavy metals than in sediments from areas further offshore where dumping has never been practiced and where heavy-metal concentrations were found to be low. Ampicillin resistance due mainly to β-lactamase production was significantly (P < 0.001) more frequent in Bacillus strains from sediments near the sewage sludge dump site than in similar Bacillus populations from control sediments. Bacillus strains with combined ampicillin and Hg resistances were almost six times as frequent at the sludge dump site as in control sediments. This observation suggests that genes for Hg resistance and β-lactamase production are simultaneously selected for in Bacillus and that heavy-metal contamination of an ecosystem can result in a selection pressure for antibiotic resistance in bacteria in that system. Also, Hg resistance was frequently linked with other heavy-metal resistances and, in a substantial proportion of Bacillus strains, involved reduction to volatile metallic Hg (Hg°).

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