Impacts of anthropogenic activity on the ecology of class 1 integrons and integron-associated genes in the environment

WH Gaze, L Zhang, NA Abdouslam, Peter Hawkey, L Calvo-Bado, J Royle, H Brown, Susan Davis, P Kay, ABA Boxall, EMH Wellington

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246 Citations (Scopus)


The impact of human activity on the selection for antibiotic resistance in the environment is largely unknown, although considerable amounts of antibiotics are introduced through domestic wastewater and farm animal waste. Selection for resistance may occur by exposure to antibiotic residues or by co-selection for mobile genetic elements (MGEs) which carry genes of varying activity. Class 1 integrons are genetic elements that carry antibiotic and quaternary ammonium compound (QAC) resistance genes that confer resistance to detergents and biocides. This study aimed to investigate the prevalence and diversity of class 1 integron and integron-associated QAC resistance genes in bacteria associated with industrial waste, sewage sludge and pig slurry. We show that prevalence of class 1 integrons is higher in bacteria exposed to detergents and/or antibiotic residues, specifically in sewage sludge and pig slurry compared with agricultural soils to which these waste products are amended. We also show that QAC resistance genes are more prevalent in the presence of detergents. Studies of class 1 integron prevalence in sewage sludge amended soil showed measurable differences compared with controls. Insertion sequence elements were discovered in integrons from QAC contaminated sediment, acting as powerful promoters likely to upregulate cassette gene expression. On the basis of this data, > 1 x 10(19) bacteria carrying class 1 integrons enter the United Kingdom environment by disposal of sewage sludge each year. The ISME Journal (2011) 5, 1253-1261; doi:10.1038/ismej.2011.15; published online 3 March 2011
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1253-1261
Number of pages9
JournalThe ISME Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2011


  • sewage
  • antibiotic resistance
  • agriculture
  • pollution
  • integron
  • horizontal gene transfer


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