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Degradation of extracellular genomic, plasmid DNA and specific antibiotic resistance genes by chlorination

Zhang, Menglu, Chen, Sheng, Yu, Xin, Vikesland, Peter, Pruden, Amy
Frontiers of environmental science & engineering 2019 v.13 no.3 pp. 38
antibiotic resistance genes, chlorination, chlorine, disinfection, drinking water, fluorometry, genomics, plasmids, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, wastewater
There is a need to improve understanding of the effect of chlorine disinfection on antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in order to advance relevant drinking water, wastewater, and reuse treatments. However, few studies have explicitly assessed the physical effects on the DNA. Here we examined the effects of free chlorine (1–20 mg Cl₂/L) on extracellular genomic, plasmid DNA and select ARGs. Chlorination was found to decrease the fluorometric signal of extracellular genomic and plasmid DNA (ranging from 0.005 to 0.05 μg/mL) by 70%, relative to a no-chlorine control. Resulting DNA was further subject to a fragment analysis using a Bioanalyzer, indicating that chlorination resulted in fragmentation. Moreover, chlorine also effectively deactivated both chromosomal- and plasmid-borne ARGs, mecA and tetA, respectively. For concentrations >2 mg Cl₂//L × 30 min, chlorine efficiently reduced the qPCR signal when the initial concentration of ARGs was 10⁵ copies/μL or less. Notably, genomic DNA and mecA gene signals were more readily reduced by chlorine than the plasmid-borne tetA gene (by ~2 fold). Based on the results of qPCR with short (~200 bps) and long amplicons (~1200 bps), chlorination could destroy the integrity of ARGs, which likely reduces the possibility of natural transformation. Overall, our findings strongly illustrate that chlorination could be an effective method for inactivating extracellular chromosomal- and plasmid-borne DNA and ARGs.