Spatially resolved abundances of antibiotic resistance genes and intI1 in wastewater treatment biofilms

Morgan L. Petrovich, Alex F. Rosenthal, James S. Griffin, George F. Wells*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Attached growth bioprocesses that use biofilms to remove organic matter or nutrients from wastewater are known to harbor antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). Biofilms in these processes are spatially heterogeneous, but little is known about depth stratification of ARGs in complex, mixed culture biofilms. To address this knowledge gap, we used an experimental approach combining cryosectioning and quantitative polymerase chain reaction to quantify the spatial distribution of three ARGs (sul1, ermB, and qnrS) and the class 1 integron-integrase gene intI1 in biofilms from a lab-scale rotating annular reactor fed with synthetic wastewater. We also used high throughput 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene sequencing to characterize community structure with depth in biofilms. The ARG sul1 and the integron-integrase gene intI1 were found in higher abundances in upper layers of biofilm near the fluid-biofilm interface than in lower layers and exhibited significant correlations between the distance from substratum and gene abundances. The genes ermB and qnrS were present in comparatively low relative abundances. Microbial community structure varied significantly by date of sampling and distance from the substratum. These findings highlight the genetic and taxonomic heterogeneity with distance from substratum in wastewater treatment biofilms and show that sul1 and intI1 are particularly abundant near fluid-biofilm interfaces where cells are most likely to detach and flow into downstream portions of treatment systems and can ultimately be released into the environment through effluent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)543-554
Number of pages12
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • antibiotic resistance
  • biofilms
  • microbial ecology
  • microscale spatial distribution
  • wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Spatially resolved abundances of antibiotic resistance genes and intI1 in wastewater treatment biofilms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this