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Vancomycin resistance plasmids affect persistence of Enterococcus faecium in water.

  • Young, Suzanne1
  • Rohr, Jason R2
  • Harwood, Valerie J3
  • 1 Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA; Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland. , (Switzerland)
  • 2 Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA.
  • 3 Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA. Electronic address: [email protected]
Published Article
Water research
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2019
DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2019.115069
PMID: 31536887


Vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) cause 20,000 infections annually in the United States, most of which are nosocomial. Recent findings of VRE in sewage-contaminated surface waters demonstrate an alternate route of human exposure, and a possible setting for horizontal gene exchange facilitated by plasmids and other mobile genetic elements. Maintenance of antibiotic resistance genes and proteins may, however, present a fitness cost in the absence of selective pressure, particularly in habitats such as environmental waters that are not optimal for gut-associated bacteria. Nutrient levels, which are transiently elevated following sewage spills, may also affect survival. We tested the hypotheses that nutrients and/or plasmids conferring vancomycin resistance affect Enterococcus faecium survival in river water by measuring decay of strains that differed only by their plasmid, under natural and augmented nutrient conditions. In natural river water, decay rate (log10 reduction) correlated directly with plasmid size; however, plasmid presence and size had no effect on decay rate when nutrients levels were augmented. Under natural nutrient levels, the vancomycin-resistant strain with the largest plasmid (200 kb) decayed significantly more rapidly than the plasmid-less, susceptible parent strain, in contrast to similar decay rates among strains under augmented nutrient conditions. This work is among the first to show that plasmids conferring antibiotic resistance affect fitness of Enterococcus species in secondary habitats such as surface water. The nutrient-dependent nature of the fitness cost suggests that conveyance of VRE to environmental waters in nutrient-rich sewage may prolong survival of these pathogens, providing greater opportunity for host infection and/or horizontal gene transfer. Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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