Front Microbiol. 2023 Aug 1;14:1194952. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2023.1194952. eCollection 2023.
The effects of sub-minimum inhibitory concentrations (sub-MICs) of antibiotics on aquatic environments is not yet fully understood. Here, we explore these effects by employing a replicated microcosm system fed with river water where biofilm communities were continuously exposed over an eight-week period to sub-MIC exposure (1/10, 1/50, and 1/100 MIC) to a mix of common antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, streptomycin, and oxytetracycline). Biofilms were examined using a structure-function approach entailing microscopy and metagenomic techniques, revealing details on the microbiome, resistome, virulome, and functional prediction. A comparison of three commonly used microbiome and resistome databases was also performed. Differences in biofilm architecture were observed between sub-MIC antibiotic treatments, with an overall reduction of extracellular polymeric substances and autotroph (algal and cyanobacteria) and protozoan biomass, particularly at the 1/10 sub-MIC condition. While metagenomic analyses demonstrated that microbial diversity was lowest at the sub-MIC 1/10 antibiotic treatment, resistome diversity was highest at sub-MIC 1/50. This study also notes the importance of benchmarking analysis tools and careful selection of reference databases, given the disparity in detected antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) identity and abundance across methods. Ultimately, the most detected ARGs in sub-MICs exposed biofilms were those that conferred resistance to aminoglycosides, tetracyclines, β-lactams, sulfonamides, and trimethoprim. Co-occurrence of microbiome and resistome features consistently showed a relationship between Proteobacteria genera and aminoglycoside ARGs. Our results support the hypothesis that constant exposure to sub-MICs antibiotics facilitate the transmission and promote prevalence of antibiotic resistance in riverine biofilms communities, and additionally shift overall microbial community metabolic function.