Natural antibiotic resistance of bacteria isolated from larvae of the oil fly, Helaeomyia petrolei

D. R. Kadavy, J. M. Hornby, T. Haverkost, K. W. Nickerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Helaeomyia petrolei (oil fly) larvae inhabit the asphalt seeps of Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles, Calif. The culturable microbial gut contents of larvae collected from the viscous oil were recently examined, and the majority (9 of 14) of the strains were identified as Providencia spp. Subsequently, 12 of the bacterial strains isolated were tested for their resistance or sensitivity to 23 commonly used antibiotics. All nine strains classified as Providencia rettgeri exhibited dramatic resistance to tetracycline, vancomycin, bacitracin, erythromycin, novobiocin, polymyxin, colistin, and nitrofurantoin. Eight of nine Providencia strains showed resistance to spectinomycin, six of nine showed resistance to chloramphenicol, and five of nine showed resistance to neomycin. All 12 isolates were sensitive to nalidixic acid, streptomycin, norfloxacin, aztreonam, cipericillin, pipericillin, and cefotaxime, and all but OF008 (Morganella morganii) were sensitive to ampicillin and cefoxitin. The oil fly bacteria were not resistant to multiple antibiotics due to an elevated mutation rate. For each bacterium, the number of resistant mutants per 108 cells was determined separately on rifampin, nalidixic acid, and spectinomycin. In each case, the average frequencies of resistant colonies were at least 50-fold lower than those established for known mutator strain ECOR 48. In addition, the oil fly bacteria do not appear to excrete antimicrobial agents. When tested, none of the oil fly bacteria produced detectable zones of inhibition on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, or Candida albicans cultures. Furthermore, the resistance properties of oil fly bacteria extended to organic solvents as well as antibiotics. When pre-exposed to 20 μg of tetracycline per ml, seven of nine oil fly bacteria tolerated overlays of 100% cyclohexane, six of nine tolerated 10% xylene, benzene, or toluene (10:90 in cyclohexane), and three of nine (OF007, OF010, and OF011) tolerated overlays of 50% xylene-50% cyclohexane. The observed correlation between antibiotic resistance and organic solvent tolerance is likely explained by an active efflux pump that is maintained in oil fly bacteria by the constant selective pressure of La Brea's solvent-rich environment. We suggest that the oil fly bacteria and their genes for solvent tolerance may provide a microbial reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4615-4619
Number of pages5
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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