The dissemination of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in environmental water is an emerging concern in medical and industrial settings. Here, we analysed the antimicrobial resistance of Escherichia coli isolates from river water and sewage by the use of a combined experimental phenotypic and whole-genome-based genetic approach. Among the 283 tested strains, 52 were phenotypically resistant to one or more antimicrobial agents. The E. coli isolates from the river and sewage samples were phylogenetically indistinguishable, and the antimicrobial-resistant strains were dispersedly distributed in a whole-genome-based phylogenetic tree. The prevalence of antimicrobial-resistant strains as well as the number of antimicrobials to which they were resistant were higher in sewage samples than in river samples. Antimicrobial resistance genes were more frequently detected in strains from sewage samples than in those from river samples. We also found that 16 river isolates that were classified as Escherichia cryptic clade V were susceptible to all the antimicrobials tested and were negative for antimicrobial resistance genes. Our results suggest that E. coli strains may acquire antimicrobial resistance genes more frequently and/or antimicrobial-resistant E. coli strains may have higher rates of accumulation and positive selection in sewage than in rivers, irrespective of their phylogenetic distribution.
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