Simultaneous Dissemination of Nanoplastics and Antibiotic Resistance by Nematode Couriers

Yuen Chan, Yang Liu, Rongben Wu, Wei Wei, Kar Hei Fang, Song Lin Chua (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Nanoplastics (NPs) are increasingly recognized as a newly emerging pollutant in the environment. NPs can enable the colonization of microbial pathogens on their surfaces and adsorb toxic pollutants, such as heavy metals and residual antibiotics. Although the dissemination of plastic particles in water bodies and the atmosphere is widely studied, the dissemination of NPs and adsorbed pollutants on land, via biological means, is poorly understood. Since soil animals, such as the bacterivorous nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), are highly mobile, this raises the possibility that they play an active role in disseminating NPs and adsorbed pollutants. Here, we established that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could aggregate with antibiotic-adsorbed NPs to form antibiotic-adsorbed NP-antibiotic resistant bacteria (ANP-ARB) aggregates, using polymyxins (colistin) as a proof-of-concept. Colistin-resistant mcr-1 bearing Escherichia coli from a mixed population of resistant and sensitive bacteria selectively aggregate with colistin-ANPs. In the soil microcosm, C. elegans fed on ANP-ARB clusters, resulting in the rapid spread of ANP-ARB by the nematodes across the soil at a rate of 40-60 cm per day. Our work revealed insights into how NPs could still disseminate across the soil faster than previously thought by “hitching a ride” in soil animals and acting as agents of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and antibiotic contaminants. This poses direct risks to ecology, agricultural sustainability, and human health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8719-8727
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2023


  • antibiotic
  • bacteria
  • nanoplastics
  • nematode
  • soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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