Distribution of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment

Mei Zhuang, Yigal Achmon, Yuping Cao, Xiaomin Liang, Liang Chen, Hui Wang, Bupe A. Siame, Ka Yin Leung*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


The prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) in the microbiome is a major public health concern globally. Many habitats in the environment are under threat due to excessive use of antibiotics and evolutionary changes occurring in the resistome. ARB and ARGs from farms, cities and hospitals, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) or as water runoffs, may accumulate in water, soil, and air. We present a global picture of the resistome by examining ARG-related papers retrieved from PubMed and published in the last 30 years (1990–2020). Natural Language Processing (NLP) was used to retrieve 496,640 papers, out of which 9374 passed the filtering test and were further analyzed to determine the distribution and diversity of ARG subtypes. The papers revealed seven major antibiotic families together with their respective ARG subtypes in different habitats on six continents. Asia, especially China, had the highest number of ARGs related papers compared to other countries/regions/continents. ARGs belonging to multidrug, glycopeptide, and β-lactam families were the most common in reports from hospitals and sulfonamide and tetracycline families were common in reports from farms, WWTPs, water and soil. We also highlight the ‘omics’ tools used in resistome research, describe some factors that shape the development of resistome, and suggest future work needed to better understand the resistome. The goal was to show the global nature of ARB and ARGs in order to encourage collaborate research efforts aimed at reducing the negative impacts of antibiotic resistance on the One Health concept.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117402
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 15 Sep 2021


  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria
  • Antibiotics resistance genes
  • Metagenomics
  • One health
  • Resistome


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