Novel clinically relevant antibiotic resistance genes associated with sewage sludge and industrial waste streams revealed by functional metagenomic screening

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • L Zhang
  • L Calvo-Bado
  • A K Murray
  • G C A Amos
  • E M Wellington
  • W H Gaze

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • The University of Warwick
  • University of Exeter


A growing body of evidence indicates that anthropogenic activities can result in increased prevalence of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) in bacteria in natural environments. Many environmental studies have used next-generation sequencing methods to sequence the metagenome. However, this approach is limited as it does not identify divergent uncharacterized genes or demonstrate activity. Characterization of ARGs in environmental metagenomes is important for understanding the evolution and dissemination of resistance, as there are several examples of clinically important resistance genes originating in environmental species. The current study employed a functional metagenomic approach to detect genes encoding resistance to extended spectrum β-lactams (ESBLs) and carbapenems in sewage sludge, sludge amended soil, quaternary ammonium compound (QAC) impacted reed bed sediment and less impacted long term curated grassland soil. ESBL and carbapenemase genes were detected in sewage sludge, sludge amended soils and QAC impacted soil with varying degrees of homology to clinically important β-lactamase genes. The flanking regions were sequenced to identify potential host background and genetic context. Novel β-lactamase genes were found in Gram negative bacteria, with one gene adjacent to an insertion sequence ISPme1, suggesting a recent mobilization event and/ the potential for future transfer. Sewage sludge and quaternary ammonium compound (QAC) rich industrial effluent appear to disseminate and/or select for ESBL genes which were not detected in long term curated grassland soils. This work confirms the natural environment as a reservoir of novel and mobilizable resistance genes, which may pose a threat to human and animal health.

Bibliographic note

Copyright © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105120
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/pharmacology, Bacteria/drug effects, Drug Resistance, Microbial/genetics, Genes, Bacterial, Geologic Sediments/microbiology, Grassland, Industrial Waste, Metagenome, Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Sewage/microbiology, Soil Microbiology