Seasonal dynamics of tetracycline resistance gene flux in the Sumas River agricultural watershed of British Columbia, Canada

Keen, Patricia L. and Knapp, Charles W. and Hall, Kenneth J. and Graham, David W. (2018) Seasonal dynamics of tetracycline resistance gene flux in the Sumas River agricultural watershed of British Columbia, Canada. Science of the Total Environment, 628-629. pp. 490-498. ISSN 1879-1026 (

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Environmental transport of contaminants that can influence the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is an important concern in the management of ecological and human health risks. Agricultural regions are locales where practices linked to food crop and livestock production can introduce contaminants that could alter the selective pressures for the development of antibiotic resistance in microbiota. This is important in regions where the use of animal manure or municipal biosolids as waste and/or fertilizer could influence selection for antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacterial species. To investigate the environmental transport of contaminants that could lead to the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, a watershed with one of the highest levels of intensity of agricultural activity in Canada was studied; the Sumas River located 60 km east of Vancouver, British Columbia. This two-year assessment monitored four selected tetracycline resistance genes (tet(O), tet(M), tet(Q), tet(W)) and water quality parameters (temperature, specific conductivity, turbidity, suspended solids, nitrate, phosphate and chloride) at eight locations across the watershed. The tetracycline resistance genes (Tcr) abundances in the Sumas River network ranged between 1.47 × 102 and 3.49 × 104 copies/mL and ranged between 2.3 and 6.9 copies/mL in a control stream (located far from agricultural activities) for the duration of the study. Further, Tcr abundances that were detected in the wet season months ranged between 1.3 × 103 and 2.29 × 104 copies/mL compared with dry season months (ranging between 0.6 and 31.2 copies/mL). Highest transport rates between 1.67 × 1011 and 1.16 × 1012 copies/s were observed in November 2005 during periods of high rainfall. The study showed that elevated concentrations of antibiotic resistance genes in the order of 102–104 copies/mL can move through stream networks in an agricultural watershed but seasonal variations strongly influenced specific transport patterns of these genes.