Toxicological impacts of antibiotics on aquatic micro-organisms: A mini-review

Pia Välitalo*, Antonina Kruglova, Anna Mikola, Riku Vahala

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleScientificpeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


Antibiotics are found globally in the environment at trace levels due to their extensive consumption, which raises concerns about the effects they can have on non-target organisms, especially environmental micro-organisms. So far the majority of studies have focused on different aspects of antibiotic resistance or on analyzing the occurrence, fate, and removal of antibiotics from hospital and municipal wastewaters. Little attention has been paid to ecotoxicological effects of antibiotics on aquatic micro-organisms although they play a critical role in most ecosystems and they are potentially sensitive to these substances. Here we review the current state of research on the toxicological impacts of antibiotics to aquatic micro-organisms, including proteobacteria, cyanobacteria, algae and bacteria commonly present in biological wastewater treatment processes. We focus on antibiotics that are poorly removed during wastewater treatment and thus end up in surface waters. We critically discuss and compare the available analytical methods and test organisms based on effect concentrations and identify the knowledge gaps and future challenges. We conclude that, in general, cyanobacteria and ammonium oxidizing bacteria are the most sensitive micro-organisms to antibiotics. It is important to include chronic tests in ecotoxicological assessment, because acute tests are not always appropriate in case of low sensitivity (for example for proteobacteria). However, the issue of rapid development of antibiotic resistance should be regarded in chronic testing. Furthermore, the application of other species of bacteria and endpoints should be considered in the future, not forgetting the mixture effect and bacterial community studies. Due to differences in the sensitivity of different test organisms to individual antibiotic substances, the application of several bioassays with varying test organisms would provide more comprehensive data for the risk assessment of antibiotics. Regardless of the growing concerns related to antibiotics in the environment, there are still evident knowledge gaps related to antibiotics, as there is only limited or no ecotoxicological data on many potentially harmful antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-569
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Early online date22 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2017
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Antibiotics
  • Ecotoxicity
  • Effect concentrations
  • Micro-organisms


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