Resident microbial communities inhibit growth and antibiotic-resistance evolution of <i>Escherichia coli</i> in human gut microbiome samples

by Michael Baumgartner, Florian Bayer, Katia R. Pfrunder-Cardozo, Angus Buckling, Alex R. Hall

Countering the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens requires improved understanding of how resistance emerges and spreads in individual species, which are often embedded in complex microbial communities such as the human gut microbiome. Interactions with other microorganisms in such communities might suppress growth and resistance evolution of individual species (e.g., via resource competition) but could also potentially accelerate resistance evolution via horizontal transfer of resistance genes. It remains unclear how these different effects balance out, partly because it is difficult to observe them directly. Here, we used a gut microcosm approach to quantify the effect of three human gut microbiome communities on growth and resistance evolution of a focal strain of Escherichia coli. We found the resident microbial communities not only suppressed growth and colonisation by focal E. coli but also prevented it from evolving antibiotic resistance upon exposure to a beta-lactam antibiotic. With samples from all three human donors, our focal E. coli strain only evolved antibiotic resistance in the absence of the resident microbial community, even though we found resistance genes, including a highly effective resistance plasmid, in resident microbial communities. We identified physical constraints on plasmid transfer that can explain why our focal strain failed to acquire some of these beneficial resistance genes, and we found some chromosomal resistance mutations were only beneficial in the absence of the resident microbiota. This suggests, depending on in situ gene transfer dynamics, interactions with resident microbiota can inhibit antibiotic-resistance evolution of individual species.

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