Benzoate and Salicylate Tolerant Strains Lose Antibiotic Resistance During Laboratory Evolution of Escherichia coli K-12

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Escherichia coli K-12 W3110 grows in the presence of membrane-permeant organic acids that can depress cytoplasmic pH and accumulate in the cytoplasm. We conducted experimental evolution by daily diluting cultures in increasing concentrations of benzoic acid (up to 20 mM) buffered at external pH 6.5, a pH at which permeant acids concentrate in the cytoplasm. By 2,000 generations, clones isolated from evolving populations showed increasing tolerance to benzoate but were sensitive to chloramphenicol and tetracycline. Sixteen clones grew to stationary phase in 20 mM benzoate, whereas the ancestral strain W3110 peaked and declined. Similar growth occurred in 10 mM salicylate. Benzoate-evolved strains grew like W3110 in the absence of benzoate, in media buffered at pH 4.8, pH 7.0, or pH 9.0, or in 20 mM acetate or sorbate at pH 6.5. Genomes of 16 strains revealed over 100 mutations, including single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), large deletions, and insertion knockouts. Most strains acquired deletions in the benzoate-induced multiple antibiotic resistance (Mar) regulon or in associated regulators such as rob and cpxA, as well as the multidrug resistance (MDR) efflux pumps emrA, emrY, and mdtA. Strains also lost or downregulated the Gad acid fitness regulon. In 5 mM benzoate or in 2 mM salicylate (2-hydroxybenzoate), most strains showed increased sensitivity to the antibiotics chloramphenicol and tetracycline; some strains were more sensitive than a marA knockout strain. Thus, our benzoate-evolved strains may reveal additional unknown drug resistance components. Benzoate or salicylate selection pressure may cause general loss of MDR genes and regulators.

IMPORTANCE Benzoate is a common food preservative, and salicylate is the primary active metabolite of aspirin. In the gut microbiome, genetic adaptation to salicylate may involve loss or downregulation of inducible multidrug resistance systems. This discovery implies that aspirin therapy may modulate the human gut microbiome to favor salicylate tolerance at the expense of drug resistance. Similar aspirin-associated loss of drug resistance might occur in bacterial pathogens found in arterial plaques.


Applied and Environmental Microbiology