Co-selection of antibiotic and heavy metal resistance in freshwater bacteria

  • Andrea Di Cesare National Research Council, Institute of Ecosystem Study, Italy.
  • Ester Eckert National Research Council, Institute of Ecosystem Study, Italy.
  • Gianluca Corno | National Research Council, Institute of Ecosystem Study, Italy.


Antibiotic resistant bacteria are found in most environments, especially in highly anthropized waters. A direct correlation between human activities (e.g., pollution) and spread and persistence of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and resistance genes (ARGs) within the resident bacterial communities appears more and more obvious. Furthermore, the threat posed for human health by the presence of ARB and ARGs in these environments is enhanced by the risk of horizontal gene transfer of resistance genes to human pathogens. Although the knowledge on the spread of antibiotic resistances in waters is increasing, the understanding of the driving factors determining the selection for antibiotic resistance in the environment is still scarce. Antibiotic pollution is generally coupled with contamination by heavy metals (HMs) and other chemicals, which can also promote the development of resistance mechanisms, often through co-selecting for multiple resistances. The co-selection of heavy metal resistance genes and ARGs in waters, sediments, and soils, increases the complexity of the ecological role of ARGs, and reduces the effectiveness of control actions. In this mini-review we present the state-of-the-art of the research on antibiotic- and HM-resistance and their connection in the environment, with a focus on HM pollution and aquatic environments. We review the spread and the persistence of HMs and/or ARB, and how it influences their respective gene co-selection. In the last chapter, we propose Lake Orta, a system characterized by an intensive HM pollution followed by a successful restoration of the chemistry of the water column, as a study-site to evaluate the spread and selection of HMs and antibiotic resistances in heavily disturbed environments.


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Lake Orta: a new lease on life
Supporting Agencies
International Commission for the Protection of Italian-Swiss Waters (CIPAIS)
Co-selection, antibiotic resistance, heavy metal, anthropization, Lake Orta.
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How to Cite
Di Cesare A, Eckert E, Corno G. Co-selection of antibiotic and heavy metal resistance in freshwater bacteria. jlimnol [Internet]. 13Apr.2016 [cited 23Jan.2020];75(2s). Available from: