The impact of human activities on the environmental resistome has been documented in many studies, but there remains the controversial question of whether the increased antibiotic resistance observed in anthropogenically impacted environments is just a result of contamination by resistant fecal microbes or is mediated by indigenous environmental organisms. Here, to determine exactly how anthropogenic influences shape the environmental resistome, we resolved the microbiome, resistome, and mobilome of the planktonic microbial communities along a single river, the Han, which spans a gradient of human activities.
The bloom of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) was evident in the downstream regions and distinct successional dynamics of the river resistome occurred across the spatial continuum. We identified a number of widespread ARG sequences shared between the river, human gut, and pathogenic bacteria. These human-related ARGs were largely associated with mobile genetic elements rather than particular gut taxa and mainly responsible for anthropogenically driven bloom of the downstream river resistome. Furthermore, both sequence- and phenotype-based analyses revealed environmental relatives of clinically important proteobacteria as major carriers of these ARGs.
Our results demonstrate a more nuanced view of the impact of anthropogenic activities on the river resistome: fecal contamination is present and allows the transmission of ARGs to the environmental resistome, but these mobile genes rather than resistant fecal bacteria proliferate in environmental relatives of their original hosts.