Diversity of Antibiotic Resistant Bacterial Species and Antibiotic Resistance Genes in the Coastal Marine Environment

Rebecca Gast, Biology
Megan May, Biology


2015 COI Funded Project


Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance are natural phenomena, indicating that the environment is a reservoir of antibiotic resistance, but studies have largely focused on the clinical realm.  Studies that do examine antibiotic resistance in the environment tend to look at sites that are subjected to significant human impact or pollution, such as hospital wastes, wastewater treatment, agriculture and aquaculture.  While it is generally accepted that sites like these have higher levels of resistance, we do know that antibiotic resistance is present at sites without significant anthropogenic impact.

We argue that it is important to consider the coastal marine environment as a reservoir for antibiotic resistance.  While the introduction of resistant bacteria through pollution and pathogens are certainly a concern, we suggest it is possible that marine bacteria are able to acquire resistance from introduced bacteria that cannot grow in the marine environment, and that they naturally carry and exchange antibiotic resistance.  Humans can encounter these bacteria through normal activities of beach recreation or consumption of seafood, and the resistance can then be passed to other bacteria within the body.  In this project we will determine the diversity of locally isolated marine bacteria that carry antibiotic resistance traits.  In addition, we will examine the diversity of antibiotic resistance genes in both low and high impact marine environments.  Knowing what types of marine bacteria carry antibiotic resistance and the diversity of antibiotic resistance genes present in relatively low impact marine environments provides a baseline for us to make comparisons with heavily impacted environments, and to assess the potential health risks.