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The effect of benzalkonium chlorides (BACs), a widely used class of quaternary ammonium disinfectants, on microbial community structure and antimicrobial resistance was investigated using three aerobic microbial communities: BACs-unexposed (DP, fed a mixture of dextrin/peptone), BACs-exposed (DPB, fed a mixture of dextrin/peptone and BACs) and BACs-enriched (B, fed only BACs). Long-term exposure to BACs reduced community diversity and resulted in the enrichment of BAC-resistant species, predominantly Pseudomonas species. Exposure of the two microbial communities to BACs significantly decreased their susceptibility to BACs as well as three clinically relevant antibiotics (penicillin G, tetracycline, ciprofloxacin). Increased resistance to BACs and penicillin G of the two BACs-exposed communities is predominantly attributed to degradation or transformation of these compounds, whereas resistance to tetracycline and ciprofloxacin is largely due to the activity of efflux pumps. Quantification of several key multidrug resistance genes showed a much higher number of copies of these genes in the DPB and B microbial communities compared to the DP community. Collectively, our findings indicate that exposure of a microbial community to BACs results in increased antibiotic resistance, which has important implications for both human and environmental health.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Environmental science & technology
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