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Antibiotic Resistance Among Cultured Bacterial Isolates from Bioethanol Fermentation Facilities Across the United States

Murphree, Colin A., Heist, E. Patrick, Moe, Luke A.
Current microbiology 2014 v.69 no.3 pp. 277-285
antibiotic resistance, bacterial contamination, beta-lactamase, bioethanol, biofilm, erythromycin, ethanol fermentation, ethanol production, fermenters, genes, lactic acid bacteria, lactic fermentation, microbial growth, minimum inhibitory concentration, virginiamycin, United States
Bacterial contamination of fuel ethanol fermentations by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) can have crippling effects on bioethanol production. Producers have had success controlling bacterial growth through prophylactic addition of antibiotics to fermentors, yet concerns have arisen about antibiotic resistance among the LAB. Here, we report on mechanisms used by 32 LAB isolates from eight different US bioethanol facilities to persist under conditions of antibiotic stress. Minimum inhibitory concentration assays with penicillin, erythromycin, and virginiamycin revealed broad resistance to each of the antibiotics as well as high levels of resistance to individual antibiotics. Phenotypic assays revealed that antibiotic inactivation mechanisms contributed to the high levels of individual resistances among the isolates, especially to erythromycin and virginiamycin, yet none of the isolates appeared to use a β-lactamase. Biofilm formation was noted among the majority of the isolates and may contribute to persistence under low levels of antibiotics. Nearly all of the isolates carried at least one canonical antibiotic resistance gene and many carried more than one. The erythromycin ribosomal methyltransferase (erm) gene class was found in 19 of 32 isolates, yet a number of these isolates exhibit little to no resistance to erythromycin. The erm genes were present in 15 isolates that encoded more than one antibiotic resistance mechanism, suggestive of potential genetic linkages.