Erythromycin resistance in Campylobacter coli from meat animals is frequently encountered and could represent a substantial barrier to antibiotic treatment of human infections. Erythromycin resistance in this organism has been associated with a point mutation (A2075G) in the 23S rRNA gene. However, the mechanisms responsible for possible dissemination of erythromycin resistance in C. coli remain poorly understood. In this study, we investigated transformation-mediated acquisition of erythromycin resistance by genotypically diverse C. coli strains from turkeys and swine, with total genomic DNA from erythromycin-resistant C. coli of either turkey or swine origin used as a donor. Overall, transformation to erythromycin resistance was significantly more frequent in C. coli strains from turkeys than in swine-derived strains (P < 0.01). The frequency of transformation to erythromycin resistance was 10−5 to 10−6 for turkey-derived strains but 10−7 or less for C. coli from swine. Transformants harbored the point mutation A2075G in the 23S rRNA gene, as did the erythromycin-resistant strains used as DNA donors. Erythromycin resistance was stable in transformants following serial transfers in the absence of the antibiotic, and most transformants had high MICs (>256 μg/ml), as did the C. coli donor strains. In contrast to the results obtained with transformation, spontaneous mutants had relatively low erythromycin MICs (32 to 64 μg/ml) and lacked the A2075G mutation in the 23S rRNA gene. These findings suggest that natural transformation has the potential to contribute to the dissemination of high-level resistance to erythromycin among C. coli strains colonizing meat animals
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