Effects of Environmentally-Relevant Antibiotic Mixtures on Marine Microalgal Growth

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Science of The Total Environment

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As of 2008, approximately 48% of Americans use prescription drugs within any given 30-day period. Many pharmaceutical compounds are not fully metabolized by the human body, nor fully removed by wastewater treatment systems, before release into the environment. As a result, a vast array of pharmaceuticals has been detected in marine and freshwater organisms, sediments, and waters, with unintended effects on non-target organisms, and limited studies of environmental effects. The antibiotics sulfamethoxazole (SMX), and trimethoprim (TRI), often prescribed together to treat bacterial infections, have been detected worldwide in marine and estuarine environments at concentrations up to 765–870 ng/L each. Little research has examined sub-lethal effects of antibiotic mixtures at environmentally-relevant concentrations on marine organisms. We examined the effects of mixtures of these two antibiotics on three marine microalgal species with wide geographic ranges: Isochrysis galbana, Chaetoceros neogracile, and Nannochloropsis oculata. In separate simulations using a temperature/light-controlled set-up, we measured the growth response for each species to environmentally-relevant levels of SMX and TRI. N. oculata growth was significantly reduced by mixture treatments of both drugs (p < 0.05), by TRI (p < 0.001), and by SMX (p < 0.001), whereas only aggregated SMX levels significantly reduced growth for the other two species (p < 0.005). The exposure time at which growth rates were affected varied across species, with significant reduction in growth focused in the latter half of the experimental period for C. neogracile and N. oculata (Days 15 and 6 respectively), and midway through the experimental period for I. galbana (by Day 3). This study finds that important marine primary producers respond to the presence of SMX and TRI in the water, offering an understanding of environmental consequences of anthropogenic pharmaceuticals contaminants, and specifically the suite of antibiotics, that are released into marine ecosystems at an ever-growing rate, and highlighting potential cascading effects through trophic levels.


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