Tracking Antibiotic Resistance throughout Agroecosystems


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Virginia Tech


Widespread use of antibiotics in livestock production can result in the dissemination of bacteria carrying antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) to the broader environment. Within agroecosystems, ARGs can pose a risk to livestock handlers, farmers, and ultimately consumers. The overall goals of this dissertation are to examine the presence of resistance (antibiotic, metal) in agricultural soils and evaluate the most critical potential points of best management control of antibiotic resistance spread along the agricultural production chain. The relative impacts of agricultural practices, manure management, native soil microbiota, and type of crop grown and harvested on the agricultural resistome are multi-dimensional and cannot be captured via a single analytical technique or by focusing on one specific point in the agricultural process. Culture-, molecular "indicator"-, and next-generation sequencing- based methods were employed to characterize antibiotic resistance via taxonomic and functional profiles on the broader manure, soil, and vegetable surface microbial communities through 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing and shotgun metagenomics. Although antibiotic concentrations dissipated in the soil after 28 days after amendment application, antibiotic resistance presence was recoverable throughout the entire 120d growing season in the compost and manure amendments, the amended soil, and on vegetable surfaces. The addition of organic fertilizers increased antibiotic resistance presence compared to background levels. Further, metals and metal resistance were also measured in the amended soils and were found to be at greater levels in the inorganically fertilized soils compared to the manures and compost amended soils. Analysis of the widespread agroecosystem microbial community composition and broader metagenome has characterized varying genera profiles in the soil and on the vegetable surfaces and specific ARG and mobile genetic element (plasmid) co-occurrences. These co-occurrences highlight which ARGs may be most critical for future antibiotic resistance dissemination research. It is imperative to employ multiple methods when measuring agricultural resistance, as one method alone may miss significant patterns and lead to different best management recommendations. Linking the livestock manure, soil, and vegetable surface-associated ARBs, ARGs, resistomes, and microbiomes will help identify critical control points for mitigation of agricultural dissemination of antibiotic resistance to the environment and food production.



Keywords: antibiotic resistance, antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), antibiotic resistome, antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB), metal resistance genes (MRGs), metagenomics, manure, compost, soil, vegetables