Growth and antibiotic resistance acquisition of Escherichia coli in a river that receives treated sewage effluent

Yoshihiro Suzuki, Reina Hashimoto, Hui Xie, Emi Nishimura, Masateru Nishiyama, Kei Nukazawa, Satoshi Ishii

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7 Scopus citations


Wastewater treatment plants could discharge Escherichia coli and antibiotic resistant bacteria to the environment adjacent to, or downstream of their discharge point. However, their discharge also contains nutrients which could promote growth of E. coli in water environments. This study was done to clarify the potential of growth and antibiotic resistance acquisition of E. coli in a river environment. Levels of E. coli were monitored in a river that receives treated sewage effluent for over four years. River water, periphyton and sediment samples were collected at sites upstream and downstream of treated sewage inflow. Concentrations of E. coli increased in river water and periphyton at the sites downstream of the treated sewage inflow, although levels of E. coli were very low or below detection limit in the treated sewage samples. Concentrations of Chlorophyll a increased at the downstream sites, likely due to nutrient input from the treated sewage. Based on pulsed field gel electrophoresis, identical genotype occurred at multiple sites both upstream and downstream of the treated sewage inflow. However, strains resistant to antibiotics such as ampicillin, cefazolin, ciprofloxacin, and chloramphenicol were more frequently obtained from the downstream sites than the upstream sites. Multidrug resistant E. coli strains were detected in periphyton and sediment samples collected at the downstream sites. Non-resistant strains with PDGE genotype identical to the multi-drug strains were also detected, indicating that E. coli might have become resistant to antibiotics by acquiring resistance genes via horizontal gene transfer. Laboratory incubation experiment showed the growth of E. coli in periphyton or sediment-fed river water samples. These results suggest that the wastewater treatment inflow did not directly provide E. coli to the river water, but could promote the growth of periphyton, which could lead to the elevated levels of E. coli and the emergence of antibiotic resistant E. coli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)696-704
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 10 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Valerie Dooling for scientific editing of the manuscript. This work was supported by JST -Mirai Program Grant, Japan.


  • Antibiotic resistance E. coli
  • Environment-borne E. coli
  • Periphyton
  • Regrowth
  • Treated sewage

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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