The food chain is considered one of the main routes of antibiotic resistance diffusion between animal and human population. The resistance to antimicrobial agents among enterococci could be related to the efficient exchange of transferable genetic elements. In this study a sausage model was used to evaluate the persistence of antibiotic resistant enterococci during meat fermentation and to assess horizontal gene transfer among bacteria involved in meat fermentation. Enterococcus faecalis OG1rf harbouring either pCF10 or pAMβ1 plasmid was used as donor strain. The analysis of population dynamics during fermentation confirmed that the human isolate E. faecalis OG1rf was able to colonize the meat ecosystem with similar growth kinetics to that of food origin enterococci and to transfer the mobile genetic elements coding for tetracycline and erythromycin resistances. Transconjugant strains were detected after only two days of fermentation and increased their numbers during ripening even in the absence of selective antibiotic pressure. By means of culture-dependent and -independent molecular techniques, transconjugant strains carrying both tetracycline and erythromycin resistance genes were identified in enterococci, pediococci, lactobacilli and staphylococci groups. Our results suggest that the sausage model provides a suitable environment for horizontal transfer of conjugative plasmids and antibiotic resistance genes among food microbiota.
- Antibiotic resistance