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Tetracyclines and sulfonamides used in human and animal medicine are released to terrestrial ecosystems from wastewater treatment plants or by direct manure application. The interactions between plants and these antibiotics are numerous and complex, including uptake and accumulation, phytometabolism, toxicity responses, and degradation in the rhizosphere. Uptake and accumulation of antibiotics have been studied in plants such as wheat, maize, potato, vegetables, and ornamentals. Once accumulated in plant tissue, organic contaminants can be metabolized through a sequential process of transformation, conjugation through glycosylation and glutathione pathways, and ultimately sequestration into plant tissue. While studies have yet to fully elucidate the phytometabolism of tetracyclines and sulfonamides, an in-depth review of plant and mammalian studies suggest multiple potential transformation and conjugation pathways for tetracyclines and sulfonamides. The presence of contaminants in the vicinity or within the plants can elicit stress responses and defense mechanisms that can help tolerate the negative effects of contaminants. Antibiotics can change microbial communities and enzyme activity in the rhizosphere, potentially inducing microbial antibiotic resistance. On the other hand, the interaction of microbes and root exudates on pharmaceuticals in the rhizosphere can result in degradation of the parent molecule to less toxic compounds. To fully characterize the environmental impacts of increased antibiotic use in human medicine and animal production, further research is essential to understand the effects of different antibiotics on plant physiology and productivity, uptake, translocation, and phytometabolism of antibiotics, and the role of antibiotics in the rhizosphere.


Shiny Mathews, Dawn Reinhold. Biosolid-borne tetracyclines and sulfonamides in plants. Environmental science and pollution research international. 2013 Jul;20(7):4327-38

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PMID: 23591931

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