Functional metagenomic analysis reveals rivers are a reservoir for diverse antibiotic resistance genes

G.c.a. Amos, L. Zhang, Peter Hawkey, W.h. Gaze, E.m. Wellington

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The environment harbours a significant diversity of uncultured bacteria and a potential source of novel and extant resistance genes which may recombine with clinically important bacteria disseminated into environmental reservoirs. There is evidence that pollution can select for resistance due to the aggregation of adaptive genes on mobile elements. The aim of this study was to establish the impact of waste water treatment plant (WWTP) effluent disposal to a river by using culture independent methods to study diversity of resistance genes downstream of the WWTP in comparison to upstream. Metagenomic libraries were constructed in Escherichia coli and screened for phenotypic resistance to amikacin, gentamicin, neomycin, ampicillin and ciprofloxacin. Resistance genes were identified by using transposon mutagenesis. A significant increase downstream of the WWTP was observed in the number of phenotypic resistant clones recovered in metagenomic libraries. Common β-lactamases such as blaTEM were recovered as well as a diverse range of acetyltransferases and unusual transporter genes, with evidence for newly emerging resistance mechanisms. The similarities of the predicted proteins to known sequences suggested origins of genes from a very diverse range of bacteria. The study suggests that waste water disposal increases the reservoir of resistance mechanisms in the environment either by addition of resistance genes or by input of agents selective for resistant phenotypes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-447
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number3-4
Early online date16 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2014


  • Functional metagenomics
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Waste water
  • Environmental resistance
  • Sewage


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