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Bioavailability of potentially toxic elements influences antibiotic resistance gene and mobile genetic element abundances in urban and rural soils

Lookup NU author(s): Katie Robins, Dr Clare McCannORCiD, Dr Martin Cooke, Dr Charles Knapp, Professor David GrahamORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2022 The Authors. Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) that can encode resistance traits in bacteria are found across the environment. While it is often difficult to discern their origin, their prevalence and diversity depends on many factors, one of which is their exposure to potentially toxic elements (PTE, i.e., metals and metalloids) in soils. Here, we investigated how ambient ARGs and mobile genetic elements (MGEs) relate to the relative bioavailability of different PTEs (total versus exchangeable and carbonate-bound PTE) in rural and urban soils in northeast England. The average relative abundances of ARGs in rural sites varied over a 3-log range (7.24 × 10−7 to 1.0 × 10−4 genes/16S rRNA), and relative ARG abundances in urban sites varied by four orders of magnitude (1.75 × 10−6 to 2.85 × 10−2 genes/16S rRNA). While beta-lactam and aminoglycoside resistance genes dominated rural and urban sites, respectively, non-specific ARGs, also called multidrug-resistance genes, were significantly more abundant in urban sites (p < 0.05). Urban sites also had higher concentrations of total and exchangeable forms of PTE than rural sites, whereas rural sites were higher in carbonate-bound forms. Significant positive Spearman correlations between PTEs, ARGs and MGEs were apparent, especially with bioavailable PTE fractions and at urban sites. This study found significant positive correlations between ARGs and beryllium (Be), which has not previously been reported. Overall, our results show that PTE bioavailability is important in explaining the relative selection of ARGs in soil settings and must be considered in future co-selection and ARG exposure studies.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Robins K, McCann CM, Zhou X-Y, Su J-Q, Cooke M, Knapp CW, Graham DW

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science of the Total Environment

Year: 2022

Volume: 847

Print publication date: 15/11/2022

Online publication date: 22/07/2022

Acceptance date: 15/07/2022

Date deposited: 25/08/2022

ISSN (print): 0048-9697

ISSN (electronic): 1879-1026

Publisher: Elsevier B.V.


DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.157512

PubMed id: 35872194


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