Profiling the antibiotic resistome in soils between pristine and human-affected sites on the Tibetan Plateau

Kai Ding , Hang Wang , Xiaoxuan Su , Jianqiang Su , Yongguan Zhu


Received November 01, 2020,Revised , Accepted April 19, 2021, Available online May 16, 2021

Volume 34,2022,Pages 442-451

With increasing pressure from anthropogenic activity in pristine environments, the comprehensive profiling of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) is essential to evaluate the potential risks from human-induced antibiotic resistance in these under-studied places. Here, we characterized the microbial resistome in relatively pristine soil samples collected from four distinct habitats on the Tibetan Plateau, using a Smart chip based high-throughput qPCR approach. We compared these to soils from the same habitats that had been subjected to various anthropogenic activities, including residential sewage discharge, animal farming, atmospheric deposition, and tourism activity. Compared to pristine samples, an average of 23.7% more ARGs were detected in the human-affected soils, and the ARGs enriched in these soils mainly encoded resistances to aminoglycoside and beta-lactam. Of the four habitats studied, soils subjected to animal farming showed the highest risks of ARG enrichment and dissemination. As shown, the number of ARGs enriched (a total of 42), their fold changes (17.6 fold on average), and the co-occurrence complexity between ARGs and mobile genetic elements were all the highest in fecal-polluted soils. As well as antibiotics themselves, heavy metals also influenced ARG distributional patterns in Tibetan environments. However, compared to urban areas, the Tibetan Plateau had a low potential for ARG selection and exhibited low carriage of ARGs by mobile genetic elements, even in environments impacted by humans, suggesting that these ARGs have a limited capacity to disseminate. The present study examined the effects of multiple anthropogenic activities on the soil resistomes in relatively pristine environments.

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