Functional metagenomic analysis reveals rivers are a reservoir for diverse antibiotic resistance genes

G. C.A. Amos, L. Zhang, Peter Hawkey, W. H. Gaze, E. M. Wellington*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Citations (Scopus)


The environment harbours a significant diversity of uncultured bacteria and a potential source of novel and extant resistance genes which may recombine with clinically important bacteria disseminated into environmental reservoirs. There is evidence that pollution can select for resistance due to the aggregation of adaptive genes on mobile elements. The aim of this study was to establish the impact of waste water treatment plant (WWTP) effluent disposal to a river by using culture independent methods to study diversity of resistance genes downstream of the WWTP in comparison to upstream. Metagenomic libraries were constructed in Escherichia coli and screened for phenotypic resistance to amikacin, gentamicin, neomycin, ampicillin and ciprofloxacin. Resistance genes were identified by using transposon mutagenesis. A significant increase downstream of the WWTP was observed in the number of phenotypic resistant clones recovered in metagenomic libraries. Common β-lactamases such as blaTEM were recovered as well as a diverse range of acetyltransferases and unusual transporter genes, with evidence for newly emerging resistance mechanisms. The similarities of the predicted proteins to known sequences suggested origins of genes from a very diverse range of bacteria. The study suggests that waste water disposal increases the reservoir of resistance mechanisms in the environment either by addition of resistance genes or by input of agents selective for resistant phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-447
Number of pages7
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Natural Environment Research Council (grant NE/E004482/1 ), G.C.A.A was supported by a BBSRC studentship. W.H.G has been supported by the ERDF and ESF since moving to the University of Exeter.


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Environmental resistance
  • Functional metagenomics
  • Sewage
  • Waste water


Dive into the research topics of 'Functional metagenomic analysis reveals rivers are a reservoir for diverse antibiotic resistance genes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this