Antibiotic resistance genes may be considered as environmental pollutants if anthropogenic emission and manipulations increase their prevalence above usually occurring background levels. The prevalence of aph(3')-IIa/nptII and aph(3')-IIIa/nptIII - frequent marker genes in plant biotechnology conferring resistance to certain aminoglycosides - was determined in Austrian soils from 100 maize and potato fields not yet exposed to but eligible for GMO crop cultivation. Total soil DNA extracts were analysed by nptII/nptIII-specific TaqMan real time PCR. Of all fields 6% were positive for nptII (median: 150 copies/g soil; range: 31-856) and 85% for nptIII (1190 copies/g soil; 13-61600). The copy-number deduced prevalence of nptIII carriers was 14-fold higher compared to nptII. Of the cultivable kanamycin-resistant soil bacteria 1.8% (95% confidence interval: 0-3.3%) were positive for nptIII, none for nptII (0-0.8%). The nptII-load of the studied soils was low rendering nptII a typical candidate as environmental pollutant upon anthropogenic release into these ecosystems.
Keywords: Aminoglycosides; Antibiotics; Real time PCR; Resistance; Soil contamination.
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