Mining microbial metatranscriptomes for expression of antibiotic resistance genes under natural conditions

Dennis Versluis, Marco Maria D'Andrea, Javier Ramiro Garcia, Milkha M Leimena, Floor Hugenholtz, Jing Zhang, Başak Öztürk, Lotta Nylund, Detmer Sipkema, Willem van Schaik, Willem M de Vos, Michiel Kleerebezem, Hauke Smidt, Mark W J van Passel

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Antibiotic resistance genes are found in a broad range of ecological niches associated with complex microbiota. Here we investigated if resistance genes are not only present, but also transcribed under natural conditions. Furthermore, we examined the potential for antibiotic production by assessing the expression of associated secondary metabolite biosynthesis gene clusters. Metatranscriptome datasets from intestinal microbiota of four human adults, one human infant, 15 mice and six pigs, of which only the latter have received antibiotics prior to the study, as well as from sea bacterioplankton, a marine sponge, forest soil and sub-seafloor sediment, were investigated. We found that resistance genes are expressed in all studied ecological niches, albeit with niche-specific differences in relative expression levels and diversity of transcripts. For example, in mice and human infant microbiota predominantly tetracycline resistance genes were expressed while in human adult microbiota the spectrum of expressed genes was more diverse, and also included β-lactam, aminoglycoside and macrolide resistance genes. Resistance gene expression could result from the presence of natural antibiotics in the environment, although we could not link it to expression of corresponding secondary metabolites biosynthesis clusters. Alternatively, resistance gene expression could be constitutive, or these genes serve alternative roles besides antibiotic resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11981
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2015


  • Adult
  • Aminoglycosides
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bacteria
  • Biological Products
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Gastrointestinal Tract
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mice
  • Microbiota
  • Multigene Family
  • Polyketides
  • Swine
  • Tetracycline Resistance
  • Transcriptome
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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