Research Article
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Published Online: 8 September 2009

Conjugative Transfer of Plasmid-Located Antibiotic Resistance Genes Within the Gastrointestinal Tract of Lesser Mealworm Larvae, Alphitobius diaperinus (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae)

Publication: Foodborne Pathogens and Disease
Volume 6, Issue Number 7


The frequency of conjugative transfer of antimicrobial resistance plasmids between bacteria within the gastrointestinal tract of lesser mealworm larvae, a prevalent pest in poultry production facilities, was determined. Lesser mealworm larvae were exposed to a negative bacterial control, a donor Salmonella enterica serotype Newport strain, a recipient Escherichia coli, or both donor and recipient to examine horizontal gene transfer of plasmids. Horizontal gene transfer was validated post external disinfection, via a combination of selective culturing, testing of indole production by spot test, characterization of incompatibility plasmids by polymerase chain reaction, and profiling antibiotic susceptibility by a minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) assay. Transconjugants were produced in all larvae exposed to both donor and recipient bacteria at frequencies comparable to control in vitro filter mating conjugation studies run concurrently. Transconjugants displayed resistance to seven antibiotics in our MIC panel and, when characterized for incompatibility plasmids, were positive for the N replicon and negative for the A/C replicon. The transconjugants did not display resistance to expanded-spectrum cephalosporins, which were associated with the A/C plasmid. This study demonstrates that lesser mealworm larvae, which infest poultry litter, are capable of supporting the horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance genes and that this exchange can occur within their gastrointestinal tract and between different species of bacteria under laboratory conditions. This information is essential to science-based risk assessments of industrial antibiotic usage and its impact on animal and human health.

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Published In

cover image Foodborne Pathogens and Disease
Foodborne Pathogens and Disease
Volume 6Issue Number 7September 2009
Pages: 907 - 915
PubMed: 19425825


Published online: 8 September 2009
Published in print: September 2009
Published ahead of print: 8 May 2009


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    Tawni L. Crippen
    Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, College Station, Texas.
    Toni L. Poole
    Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, College Station, Texas.


    Address correspondence to:
    Tawni L. Crippen, Ph.D.
    Food and Feed Safety Research Unit
    Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center
    Agricultural Research Service
    United States Department of Agriculture
    2881 F & B Rd.
    College Station, TX 77845
    E-mail: [email protected]

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