Air pollution could drive global dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes

Guibing Zhu*, Xiaomin Wang, Ting Yang, Jianqiang Su, Yu Qin, Shanyun Wang, Michael Gillings, Cheng Wang, Feng Ju, Bangrui Lan, Chunlei Liu, Hu Li, Xi-En Long, Xuming Wang, Mike S.M. Jetten, Zifa Wang, Yong Guan Zhu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Antibiotic-resistant pathogens pose a significant threat to human health. Several dispersal mechanisms have been described, but transport of both microbes and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) via atmospheric particles has received little attention as a pathway for global dissemination. These atmospheric particles can return to the Earth’s surface via rain or snowfall, and thus promote long-distance spread of ARGs. However, the diversity and abundance of ARGs in fresh snow has not been studied and their potential correlation with particulate air pollution is not well explored. Here, we characterized ARGs in 44 samples of fresh snow from major cities in China, three in North America, and one in Europe, spanning a gradient from pristine to heavily anthropogenically influenced ecosystems. High-throughput qPCR analysis of ARGs and mobile genetic elements (MGEs) provided strong indications that dissemination of ARGs in fresh snow could be exacerbated by air pollution, severely increasing the health risks of both air pollution and ARGs. We showed that snowfall did effectively spread ARGs from point sources over the Earth surface. Together our findings urge for better pollution control to reduce the risk of global dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-281
Number of pages12
JournalISME Journal
Issue number1
Early online date22 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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