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Antimicrobial resistance is a major health care problem, with the intensive use of heavy metals and biocides recently identified as a potential factor contributing to the aggravation of this situation. The present study investigated heavy metal susceptibility and genetic resistance determinants in Escherichia coli isolated from clinical urine samples from Sweden, Germany, and Spain. A total of 186 isolates were tested for their sodium arsenite, silver nitrate, and copper(II) sulfate MICs. In addition, 88 of these isolates were subjected to whole-genome sequencing for characterization of their genetic resistance determinants and epidemiology. For sodium arsenite, the isolates could be categorized into a resistant and a nonresistant group based on MIC values. Isolates of the resistant group exhibited the chromosomal ars operon and belonged to non-B2 phylogenetic groups; in contrast, within the B2 phylogroup, no ars operon was found, and the isolates were susceptible to sodium arsenite. Two isolates also harbored the silver/copper resistance determinant pco/sil, and they belonged to sequence types ST10 (phylogroup A) and ST295 (phylogroup C). The ST295 isolate had a silver nitrate MIC of ≥512 mg/liter and additionally produced extended-spectrum beta-lactamases. To our knowledge, this is the first study to describe the distribution of the arsenic resistance ars operon within phylogroups of E. coli strains isolated from patients with urinary tract infections. The arsenic resistance ars operon was present only in all non-B2 clades, which have previously been associated with the environment and commensalism in both humans and animals, while B2 clades lacked the ars operon.

Original publication




Journal article


Antimicrob Agents Chemother

Publication Date





Escherichia coli, antibiotic resistance, arsenic, heavy metal resistance, silver, Anti-Bacterial Agents, Drug Resistance, Bacterial, Escherichia coli, Escherichia coli Infections, Germany, Metals, Heavy, Microbial Sensitivity Tests, Spain, Sweden, Urinary Tract Infections