Knowledge of the origins and dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) is essential for understanding modern resistomes in the environment. The mechanisms of the dissemination of ARGs can be revealed through comparative studies on the metagenomic profiling of ARGs between relatively pristine and human-impacted environments. The deep ocean bed of the South China Sea (SCS) is considered to be largely devoid of anthropogenic impacts, while the Pearl River Estuary (PRE) in south China has been highly impacted by intensive human activities. Commonly used antibiotics (sulfamethazine, norfloxacin, ofloxacin, tetracycline, and erythromycin) have been detected through chemical analysis in the PRE sediments, but not in the SCS sediments. In the relatively pristine SCS sediments, the most prevalent and abundant ARGs are those related to resistance to macrolides and polypeptides, with efflux pumps as the predominant mechanism. In the contaminated PRE sediments, the typical ARG profiles suggest a prevailing resistance to antibiotics commonly used in human health and animal farming (including sulfonamides, fluoroquinolones, and aminoglycosides), and higher diversity in both genotype and resistance mechanism than those in the SCS. In particular, antibiotic inactivation significantly contributed to the resistance to aminoglycosides, β-lactams, and macrolides observed in the PRE sediments. There was a significant correlation in the levels of abundance of ARGs and those of mobile genetic elements (including integrons and plasmids), which serve as carriers in the dissemination of ARGs in the aquatic environment. The metagenomic results from the current study support the view that ARGs naturally originate in pristine environments, while human activities accelerate the dissemination of ARGs so that microbes would be able to tolerate selective environmental stress in response to anthropogenic impacts.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry