Deciphering potential roles of earthworms in mitigation of antibiotic resistance in the soils from diverse ecosystems

Dong Zhu, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Jian-Qiang Su, Jing Ding, Hu Li, Michael R. Gillings, Josep Penuelas, Yong-Guan Zhu*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    60 Citations (Scopus)


    Earthworms are capable of redistributing bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) through soil profiles. However, our understanding of the earthworm gut microbiome and its interaction with the antibiotic resistome is still lacking. Here, we characterized the earthworm gut and soil microbiome and antibiotic resistome in natural and agricultural ecosystems at a national scale, and microcosm studies and field experiments were also employed to test the potential role of earthworms in dynamics of soil ARGs. The diversity and structure of bacterial communities were different between the earthworm gut and soil. A significant correlation between bacterial community dissimilarity and spatial distance between sites was identified in the earthworm gut. The earthworm gut consistently had lower ARGs than the surrounding soil. A significant reduction in the relative abundance of mobile genetic elements and dominant bacterial phylotypes that are the likely hosts of ARGs was observed in the earthworm gut compared to the surrounding soil, which might contribute to the decrease of ARGs in the earthworm gut. The microcosm studies and field experiments further confirmed that the presence of earthworms significantly reduced the number and abundance of ARGs in soils. Our study implies that earthworm-based bioremediation may be a method to reduce risks associated with the presence of ARGs in soils.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7445-7455
    Number of pages11
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


    • antibiotic resistance genes
    • bioremediation
    • dominant bacterial phylotypes
    • gut microbiota
    • national scale
    • soil fauna


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