Assessing Antimicrobial and Metal Resistance Genes in Escherichia Coli From Domestic Groundwater Supplies In Rural Ireland

Luisa Andrade, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Michael P. Ryan, Technological University of the Shannon Midwest, Moylish, Ireland
Liam Burke, University of Galway, Galway, Ireland
Paul Hynds, Technological University Dublin
John Weatherill, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Jean O'Dwyer, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

Luisa Andrade, Michael P Ryan, Liam P Burke, Paul Hynds, John Weatherill, Jean O'Dwyer, Assessing antimicrobial and metal resistance genes in Escherichia coli from domestic groundwater supplies in rural Ireland, Environmental Pollution, Volume 333, 2023.


Natural ecosystems can become significant reservoirs and/or pathways for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) dissemination, with the potential to affect nearby microbiological, animal, and ultimately human communities. This is further accentuated in environments that provide direct human exposure, such as drinking water. To date, however, few studies have investigated AMR dissemination potential and the presence of co-selective stressors (e.g., metals/metalloids) in groundwater environments of human health significance. Accordingly, the present study analysed samples from rural (drinking) groundwater supplies (i.e., private wells) in the Republic of Ireland, where land use is dominated by livestock grazing activities. In total, 48 Escherichia coli isolates tested phenotypically for antimicrobial susceptibility in an earlier study were further subject to whole genome sequencing (WGS) and corresponding water samples were further analysed for trace metal/metalloid concentrations. Eight isolates (i.e., 16.7%) were genotypically resistant to antimicrobials, confirming prior phenotypic results through the identification of ten antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs); namely: aph(3″)-lb (strA; n=7), aph(6)-Id (strA; n = 6), blaTEM (n = 6), sul2 (n = 6), tetA (n = 4), floR (n = 2), dfrA5 (n = 1), tetB (n = 1), and tetY (n = 1). Additional bioinformatic analysis revealed that all ARGs were plasmid-borne, except for two of the six sul2 genes, and that 31.2% of all tested isolates (n = 15) and 37.5% of resistant ones (n = 3) carried virulence genes. Study results also found no significant relationships between metal concentrations and ARG abundance. Additionally, just one genetic linkage was identified between ARGs and a metal resistance gene (MRG), namely merA, a mercury-resistant gene found on the same plasmid as blaTEM, dfrA5, strA, strB, and sul2 in the only isolate of inferred porcine (as opposed to bovine) origin. Overall, findings suggest that ARG (and MRG) acquisition may be occurring prior to groundwater ingress, and are likely a legacy issue arising from agricultural practices.