Abundance and persistence of antibiotic resistance genes in livestock farms: a comprehensive investigation in eastern China

Weixiao Cheng, Hong Chen, Chao Su, Shuhai Yan
Environment International 2013, 61: 1-7
Increases of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment may pose a threat to public health. The purpose of this study was to investigate the abundance and diversity of tetracycline (tet) and sulfonamide (sul) resistance genes in eight livestock farms in Hangzhou, eastern China. Ten tet genes (tetA, tetB, tetC, tetG, tetL, tetM, tetO, tetQ, tetW, and tetX), two sul genes (sulI and sulII), and one genetic element associated with mobile antibiotic resistance genes [class 1 integron (intI1)] were quantified by real-time polymerase chain reaction. No significant difference was found in the abundance of the tet and sul genes in various scales of pig, chicken, and duck farms (P>0.05). The average abundance of ribosomal protection protein genes (tetQ, tetM, tetW, and tetO) in the manure and wastewater samples was higher than most of the efflux pump genes (tetA, tetB, tetC, and tetL) and enzymatic modification gene (tetX) (P<0.05), except for efflux pump gene tetG, which was abundant and showed no difference from tetM. Most ARGs had higher relative abundance in the wastewater lagoon than in manures even after treatment. Although the three ribosomal protection protein genes (tetQ, tetW, and tetO) had higher relative abundance, numbers were reduced during the complete wastewater treatment process in pig farms (P<0.05). The relative abundance of tetG, sulI, and sulII increased after the wastewater treatment and the removal of these three genes exhibited significant positive correlations with the intI1 gene (tetG: R(2)=0.60, P<0.05; sulI: R(2)=0.72, P<0.05; sulII: R(2)=0.62, P<0.05), suggesting that intI1 may be involved in their proliferation. As for tetM and sulII genes, a highly significant difference was found in manure samples between pig farms and duck farms (P<0.001). Phylogenetic analysis showed that tetM was more diverse in duck farms than in pig farms. Additionally, sulII sequence was conserved both in pig and duck farms. This is the first comprehensive study to detail the relative abundance of specific ARGs in animal manures and agricultural wastewater treatment systems, potentially providing knowledge for managing antibiotic resistance emanating from agricultural activities.

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