The Microplastic-Antibiotic Resistance Connection
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Microplastic pollution is a big and rapidly growing environmental problem. Although the direct effects of microplastic pollution are increasingly studied, the indirect effects are hardly investigated, especially in the context of spreading of disease and antibiotic resistance genes, posing an apparent hazard for human health. Microplastic particles provide a hydrophobic surface that provides substrate for attachment of microorganisms and readily supports formation of microbial biofilms. Pathogenic bacteria such as fish pathogens Aeromonas spp., Vibrio spp., and opportunistic human pathogens like Escherichia coli are present in these biofilms. Moreover, some of these pathogens are shown to be multidrug resistant. The presence of microplastics is known to enhance horizontal gene transfer in bacteria and thus, may contribute to dissemination of antibiotic resistance. Microplastics can also adsorb toxic chemicals like antibiotics and heavy metals, which are known to select for antibiotic resistance. Microplastics may, thus, serve as vectors for transport of pathogens and antibiotic resistance genes in the aquatic environment. In this book chapter, we provide background information on microplastic biofouling (“plastisphere concept”), discuss the relationship between microplastic and antibiotic resistance, and identify knowledge gaps and directions for future research.