Author(s): Gilbert P, Allison DG, McBain AJ
Abstract Share this page
Abstract Microbial biofilm has become inexorably linked with man's failure to control them by antibiotic and biocide regimes that are effective against suspended bacteria. This failure relates to a localized concentration of biofilm bacteria, and their extracellular products (exopolymers and extracellular enzymes), that moderates the access of the treatment agent and starves the more deeply placed cells. Biofilms, therefore, typically present gradients of physiology and concentration for the imposed treatment agent, which enables the less susceptible clones to survive. Such clones might include efflux mutants in addition to genotypes with modifications in single gene products. Clonal expansion following subeffective treatment would, in the case of many antibiotics, lead to the emergence of a resistant population. This tends not to occur for biocidal treatments where the active agent exhibits multiple pharmacological activity towards a number of specific cellular targets. Whilst resistance development towards biocidal agents is highly unlikely, subeffective exposure will lead to the selection of less susceptible clones, modified either in efflux or in their most susceptible target. The latter might also confer resistance to antibiotics where the target is shared. Thus, recent reports have demonstrated that sublethal concentrations of the antibacterial and antifungal agent triclosan can select for resistant mutants in Escherichia coli and that this agent specifically targets the enzyme enoyl reductase that is involved in lipid biosynthesis. Triclosan may, therefore, select for mutants in a target that is shared with the anti-E. coli diazaborine compounds and the antituberculosis drug isoniazid. Although triclosan may be a uniquely specific biocide, sublethal concentrations of less specific antimicrobial agents may also select for mutations within their most sensitive targets, some of which might be common to therapeutic agents. Sublethal treatment with chemical antimicrobial agents has also been demonstrated to induce the expression of multidrug efflux pumps and efflux mutants. Whilst efflux does not confer protection against use concentrations of biocidal products it is sufficient to confer protection against therapeutic doses of many antibiotics. It has, therefore, been widely speculated that biocide misuse may have an insidious effect, contributing to the evolution and persistence of drug resistance within microbial communities. Whilst such notions are supported by laboratory studies that utilize pure cultures, recent evidence has strongly refuted such linkage within the general environment where complex, multispecies biofilms predominate and where biocidal products are routinely deployed. In such situations the competition, for nutrients and space, between community members of disparate sensitivities far outweighs any potential benefits bestowed by the changes in an individual's antimicrobial susceptibility.
This article was published in J Appl Microbiol
and referenced in Journal of Microbial & Biochemical Technology