Coastal Water Surface Can Accumulate Bacteria and Antibiotics

June 14, 2024

Atlanta, Ga.—Antibiotics in the uppermost water surface, known as the sea surface microlayer, can significantly affect the number of bacteria present and contribute to the adaptation of marine bacteria against widely used antibiotics. In new research presented at ASM Microbe, scientists directly assessed the potential effects of antibiotics on bacterial diversity in Jade Bay, Southern North Sea, Germany.

The researchers tested the susceptibility and resistance of marine bacteria to ofloxacin, clindamycin, clarithromycin and novobiocin since these antibiotics were generally found in this coastal water. They observed that 70% of marine bacteria had developed resistance to ofloxacin, 95% to clindamycin, 58% to clarithromycin and 100% to novobiocin, which had the highest concentration in the environment. These findings highlight the urgency of antibiotic resistance in marine bacteria.

The study found more bacteria in seawater samples collected from the sea surface microlayer than in the water below, even when different amounts of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin were added to the samples. When the level of ciprofloxacin increased, the number of bacteria in seawater samples decreased. However, over time, the bacteria in seawater samples started to grow when there were high levels of ciprofloxacin (50 and 100 ng mL-1), which shows that they were becoming resistant. 

In the presence of a high level of ciprofloxacin, the team found 97 strains of bacteria distributed over 14 bacterial genera. Fifty-seven of these bacterial strains can cause infections in humans, especially those with weakened immune systems, while 40 are marine bacteria that cannot infect humans. The team also found antibiotics— including ofloxacin, clindamycin, clarithromycin, lincomycin, tylosin, novobiocin, erythromycin, trimethoprim, sulfamethoxazole, roxithromycin and chloramphenicol—to be present in the seawater samples, particularly in those collected from the sea surface microlayer of Jade Bay. However, only a few were found in the water below. 

“Our results emphasize the collective effort needed to reduce the potential ecological effects of introducing antibiotics into coastal waters because antibiotics may accumulate more in the sea surface microlayer, affect the bacteria diversity and lead to the adaptation of marine bacteria to antibiotics,” said Adenike Adenaya, doctoral graduate at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg. 

This joint effort, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the Biogeochemical Processes and Air-Sea Exchange in the Sea Surface Microlayer (BASS) project 451574234, and the Catholic Academic Exchange Service (KAAD) underscores the importance of collective scientific efforts.

ASM Microbe is the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, held June 13-17, 2024, in Atlanta, Ga.

The American Society for Microbiology is one of the largest professional societies dedicated to the life sciences and is composed of 36,000 scientists and health practitioners. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications, educational opportunities and advocacy efforts. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
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