Characterizing bacterial antibiotic resistance, prevalence, and persistence in the Marine Environment

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May, Megan K.
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Antibiotics in aquaculture
Drug resistance
Antibiotics are naturally occurring chemicals in bacteria that were recently discovered and utilized by humans. Despite a relatively short time of use, anthropogenic use of antibiotics has increased natural levels of antibiotic resistance, which has caused a looming antibiotic resistance crisis, where antibiotics may not work. Understanding resistance patterns is critical to allow for continued therapeutic use of antibiotics. While resistance is often thought of in hospitals, antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes from human activity are disposed of into nature where they are able to interact with naturally occurring antibiotics and resistance. In this dissertation, I examine the ocean as an understudied region of the environment for antibiotic resistance. The ocean represents an area of human activity with recreation and food consumption and it is an enormous region of the planet that is affected by both land and sea activities. In Chapter 2, I explore the policies that have contributed to the antibiotic resistance crisis. I offer explanations of market and political failures that contributed to the situation, areas for growth in terms of assessing scientific knowledge, and finally, recommendations for mitigating antibiotic resistance. In Chapters 3 and 4, I collected individual bacterial cultures from Cape Cod, MA beaches to assess the phenotypic response to antibiotic resistance. I show that 73% of Vibrio-like bacteria and 95% of heterotrophic bacteria (both groups operationally defined) are resistant to at least one antibiotic. These results indicate that antibiotic resistance is prevalent and persistent on beaches over both spatial and temporal scales. In Chapter 5, I used metagenomics to assess the abundance and types of resistance genes at coastal impacted Massachusetts sites. I found that, even in sites that seem distinct in terms of anthropogenic impact, prevalence of resistance remained the same. Finally, in Appendix A, I examined part of the TARA Ocean dataset for prevalence of antibiotic resistance genes across the world’s ocean. Here, I found that there are distinctions between different ocean biomes based upon antibiotic, metal, and mobile genetic elements. This dissertation has increased the understanding of temporal and spatial dynamics of antibiotic resistance in the coastal and open ocean.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Ocean Science & Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution February 2019.
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May, M. K. (2019). Characterizing bacterial antibiotic resistance, prevalence, and persistence in the Marine Environment [Doctoral thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Woods Hole Open Access Server.
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