Clusters of Antibiotic Resistance Genes Enriched Together Stay Together in Swine Agriculture

Johnson, T.A., Stedtfeld, R.D., Wang, Q., et al.

Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide health risk, but the influence of animal agriculture on the genetic context and enrichment of individual antibiotic resistance alleles remains unclear. Using quantitative PCR followed by amplicon sequencing, we quantified and sequenced 44 genes related to antibiotic resistance, mobile genetic elements, and bacterial phylogeny in microbiomes from U.S. laboratory swine and from swine farms from three Chinese regions. We identified highly abundant resistance clusters: groups of resistance and mobile genetic element alleles that cooccur. For example, the abundance of genes conferring resistance to six classes of antibiotics together with class 1 integrase and the abundance of IS6100-type transposons in three Chinese regions are directly correlated. These resistance cluster genes likely colocalize in microbial genomes in the farms. Resistance cluster alleles were dramatically enriched (up to 1 to 10% as abundant as 16S rRNA) and indicate that multidrug-resistant bacteria are likely the norm rather than an exception in these communities. This enrichment largely occurred independently of phylogenetic composition; thus, resistance clusters are likely present in many bacterial taxa. Furthermore, resistance clusters contain resistance genes that confer resistance to antibiotics independently of their particular use on the farms. Selection for these clusters is likely due to the use of only a subset of the broad range of chemicals to which the clusters confer resistance. The scale of animal agriculture and its wastes, the enrichment and horizontal gene transfer potential of the clusters, and the vicinity of large human populations suggest that managing this resistance reservoir is important for minimizing human risk.


Johnson, T.A., Stedtfeld, R.D., Wang, Q., et al. "Clusters of Antibiotic Resistance Genes Enriched Together Stay Together in Swine Agriculture" mBio (2016): e02214–5