Original Article

Microbial Ecology

, 57:484

First online:

Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria Isolated from the Deep Terrestrial Subsurface

  • Mindy G. BrownAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Sciences, Florida State University College of Medicine Email author 
  • , David L. BalkwillAffiliated withDepartment of Biomedical Sciences, Florida State University College of Medicine

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Various natural environments have been examined for the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and/or novel resistance mechanisms, but little is known about resistance in the terrestrial deep subsurface. This study examined two deep environments that differ in their known period of isolation from surface environments and the bacteria therein. One hundred fifty-four strains of bacteria were isolated from sediments located 170–259 m below land surface at the US Department of Energy Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina and Hanford Site (HS) in Washington. Analyses of 16S rRNA gene sequences showed that both sets of strains were phylogenetically diverse and could be assigned to several genera in three to four phyla. All of the strains were screened for resistance to 13 antibiotics by plating on selective media and 90% were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Eighty-six percent of the SRS and 62% of the HS strains were resistant to more than one antibiotic. Resistance to nalidixic acid, mupirocin, or ampicillin was noted most frequently. The results indicate that antibiotic resistance is common among subsurface bacteria. The somewhat higher frequencies of resistance and multiple resistance at the SRS may, in part, be due to recent surface influence, such as exposure to antibiotics used in agriculture. However, the HS strains have never been exposed to anthropogenic antibiotics but still had a reasonably high frequency of resistance. Given their long period of isolation from surface influences, it is possible that they possess some novel antibiotic resistance genes and/or resistance mechanisms.