Whether the house fly, Musca domestica L., gut is a permissive environment for horizontal transfer of antibiotic resistance and virulence genes between strains of Escherichia coli is not known. House flies were immobilized and force fed suspensions of defined, donor strains of E. coli containing chloramphenicol resistance genes on a plasmid, or lysogenic, bacteriophage-born Shiga toxin gene stx1 (bacteriophage H-19B::Ap1). Recipient strains were E. coli lacking these mobile elements and genes but having rifampicin as a selectable marker. Plasmid transfer occurred at rates of 10−2 per donor cell in the fly midgut and 10−3 in the fly crop after 1 h of incubation postfeeding. Bacteriophage transfer rate was ≈10−6 per donor cell without induction, but induction with mitomycin C increased rates of transfer to 10−2 per donor cell. These findings show that genes encoding antibiotic resistance or toxins will transfer horizontally among bacteria in the house fly gut via plasmid transfer or phage transduction. The house fly gut may provide a favorable environment for the evolution and emergence of pathogenic bacterial strains through acquisition of antibiotic resistance genes or virulence factors.
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Vol. 43 • No. 2