Airborne transmission is one of the environmental dissemination pathways of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), and has critical implications for human exposure through inhalation. In this study, we focused on three regions of China to reveal some unique spatiotemporal features of airborne bacteria and ARGs in fine aerosols (PM 2.5 ): (1) greater seasonal variations in the abundance of bacteria and ARGs in temperate urban Beijing than in the subtropical urban areas of the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) and Pearl River Delta (PRD) regions, with regional disparities in bacterial communities; (2) geographical fingerprints of ARG profiles independent of seasonal cycles and land-use gradients within each region; (3) region-independent associations between the targeted ARGs and limited bacterial genera; (4) common correlations between ARGs and mobile genetic elements (MGEs) across regions; and (5) PM 2.5 at the higher end of ARG enrichment across various environmental and human media. The spatiotemporally differentiated bacterial communities and ARG abundances, and the compositions, mobility, and potential hosts of ARGs in the atmosphere have strong implications for human inhalational exposure over spatiotemporal scales. By comparing other contributing pathways for the intake of ARGs (e.g., drinking water and food ingestion) in China and the U.S.A., we identified the region-specific importance of inhalation in China as well as country-specific exposure scenarios. Our study thus highlights the significance of inhalation as an integral part of the aggregate exposure pathways of environmentally disseminated ARGs, which, in turn, may help in the formulation of adaptive strategies to mitigate the exposure risks in China and beyond.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry