Research lead by a team from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand has found that commonly used herbicides, including the world’s most used herbicide Roundup, can cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.

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Brigitta Kurenbach, Delphine Marjoshi, Carlos F. Amábile-Cuevas, Gayle C. Ferguson, William Godsoe , Paddy Gibson, Jack A. Heinemann


Biocides, such as herbicides, are routinely tested for toxicity but not for sublethal effects on microbes. Many biocides are known to induce an adaptive multiple-antibiotic resistance phenotype. This can be due to either an increase in the expression of efflux pumps, a reduced synthesis of outer membrane porins, or both. Exposures of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium to commercial formulations of three herbicides—dicamba (Kamba), 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), and glyphosate (Roundup)—were found to induce a changed response to antibiotics. Killing curves in the presence and absence of sublethal herbicide concentrations showed that the directions and the magnitudes of responses varied by herbicide, antibiotic, and species. When induced, MICs of antibiotics of five different classes changed up to 6-fold. In some cases the MIC increased, and in others it decreased. Herbicide concentrations needed to invoke the maximal response were above current food maximum residue levels but within application levels for all herbicides. Compounds that could cause induction had additive effects in combination. The role of soxS, an inducer of the AcrAB efflux pump, was tested in β-galactosidase assays with soxS-lacZ fusion strains of E. coli. Dicamba was a moderate inducer of the sox regulon. Growth assays with Phe-Arg β-naphtylamide (PAβN), an efflux pump inhibitor, confirmed a significant role of efflux in the increased tolerance of E. coli to chloramphenicol in the presence of dicamba and to kanamycin in the presence of glyphosate. Pathways of exposure with relevance to the health of humans, domestic animals, and critical insects are discussed.