High diversity and abundance of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli isolated from humans and farm animal hosts in Jeonnam Province, South Korea

Tatsuya Unno, Dukki Han, Jeonghwan Jang, Sun Nim Lee, Joon Ha Kim, Gwang Pyo Ko, Bong Gyu Kim, Joong Hoon Ahn, Robert A. Kanaly, Michael J. Sadowsky, Hor Gil Hur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The spread of antibiotics resistance among bacteria is a threat to human health. Since South Korea uses approximately 1.5 times more antibiotics than do other OECD countries, this is likely to impact the numbers and types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in the environment. In this study we examined feces from domesticated animals and humans for the diversity and abundance of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli. Abundant antibiotic-resistant E. coli were isolated from all the tested animals and humans and were examined by horizontal, fluorophore-enhanced, rep-PCR (HFERP) DNA fingerprint analysis. A total of 793 unique, non-clonal, E. coli isolates were obtained from the 513 human and animal hosts examined. Antibiotic resistance analysis, done using 14 antibiotics, indicated that 72.3% of the isolates (573 of 793) were found resistant to more than one antibiotic. The E. coli isolated from swine were resistant to the greatest number of antibiotics. Tetracycline resistant E. coli were routinely isolated from all animal hosts (36 to 77% per host), except for dairy cattle (9.3%). Twenty nine E. coli isolates from all hosts, except for duck, were resistant to more than 10 antibiotics. Gene transfer and southern hybridization studies revealed that resistance to 13 of the antibiotics was self-transmissible, and likely mediated by plasmids and integrons. Since genetically diverse and numerically abundant antibiotic-resistant E. coli were consistently recovered from chicken, swine and other domesticated animals in South Korea, our results suggest that the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics for disease prophylaxis and growth promotion should be curtailed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3499-3506
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number17
StatePublished - Aug 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. Hoon-Koo Lee at Pukyung University, Busan, Korea, for kindly providing the azide resistant E. coli strain J53.This study was carried out with the support from the Korean Ministry of Environment as “The Eco-Technopia 21 Project” and by a grant from the Korean Research Foundation funded by the Korean Government (MOEHRD) (Project No. 420035 ) to Tatsuya Unno.


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Escherichia coli
  • Integrons
  • Plasmids
  • South Korea


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