Ecotoxicological effects of erythromycin on a multispecies biofilm model, revealed by metagenomic and metabolomic approaches

Yang Pu, Jie Pan, Yuan Yao, Wing Yui Ngan, Yang Yang, Meng Li, Olivier Habimana*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The presence of antibiotics such as erythromycin, even in trace amounts, has long been acknowledged for negatively impacting ecosystems in freshwater environments. Although many studies have focused on the impact of antibiotic pollution at a macroecological level, the impact of erythromycin on microecosystems, such as freshwater biofilms, is still not fully understood. This knowledge gap may be attributed to the lack of robust multispecies biofilm models for fundamental investigations. Here, we used a lab-cultured multispecies biofilm model to elucidate the holistic response of a microbial community to erythromycin exposure using metagenomic and metabolomic approaches. Metagenomic analyses revealed that biofilm microbial diversity did not alter following erythromycin exposure. Notably, certain predicted metabolic pathways such as cell–cell communication pathways, amino acid metabolism, and peptidoglycan biosynthesis, mainly by the phyla Actinobacteria, Alpha/Beta-proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Verrucomicrobia, were found to be involved in the maintenance of homeostasis-like balance in the freshwater biofilm. Further untargeted metabolomics data highlighted changes in lipid metabolism and linoleic acid metabolism and their related molecules as a direct consequence of erythromycin exposure. Overall, the study presented a unique picture of how multispecies biofilms respond to single environmental stress exposures. Moreover, the study demonstrated the feasibility of using lab simulated multispecies biofilms for investigating their interaction and reactivity of specific bioactive compounds or pollutants at a fundamental level. This study presents a unique overview of the response of a multispecies biofilm following its exposure to single environmental stress.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116737
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 1 May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Erythromycin
  • Metabolomics
  • Metagenomics
  • Multispecies biofilm
  • Stress response


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