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Your Environment. Your Health.

Publication Detail

Title: The antibiotic action of methylarsenite is an emergent property of microbial communities.

Authors: Chen, Jian; Yoshinaga, Masafumi; Rosen, Barry P

Published In Mol Microbiol, (2019 02)

Abstract: Arsenic is the most ubiquitous environmental toxin. Here, we demonstrate that bacteria have evolved the ability to use arsenic to gain a competitive advantage over other bacteria at least twice. Microbes generate toxic methylarsenite (MAs(III)) by methylation of arsenite (As(III)) or reduction of methylarsenate (MAs(V)). MAs(III) is oxidized aerobically to MAs(V), making methylation a detoxification process. MAs(V) is continually re-reduced to MAs(III) by other community members, giving them a competitive advantage over sensitive bacteria. Because generation of a sustained pool of MAs(III) requires microbial communities, these complex interactions are an emergent property. We show that reduction of MAs(V) by Burkholderia sp. MR1 produces toxic MAs(III) that inhibits growth of Escherichia coli in mixed culture. There are three microbial mechanisms for resistance to MAs(III). ArsH oxidizes MAs(III) to MAs(V). ArsI degrades MAs(III) to As(III). ArsP confers resistance by efflux. Cells of E. coli expressing arsI, arsH or arsP grow in mixed culture with Burkholderia sp. MR1 in the presence of MAs(V). Thus MAs(III) has antibiotic properties: a toxic organic compound produced by one microbe to kill off competitors. Our results demonstrate that life has adapted to use environmental arsenic as a weapon in the continuing battle for dominance.

PubMed ID: 30520200 Exiting the NIEHS site

MeSH Terms: Anti-Bacterial Agents/metabolism*; Antibiosis*; Arsenicals/metabolism*; Burkholderia/drug effects; Burkholderia/metabolism*; Carbon/metabolism*; Drug Resistance, Bacterial*; Escherichia coli/drug effects; Escherichia coli/growth & development*

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