Biochar Effectively Inhibits the Horizontal Transfer of Antibiotic Resistance Genes via Restraining the Energy Supply for Conjugative Plasmid Transfer

Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Sep 6;56(17):12573-12583. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02701. Epub 2022 Aug 9.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) through plasmid-mediated conjugation poses a major threat to global public health. Biochar, a widely used environmental remediation material, has remarkable impacts on the fate of ARGs. However, although biochar was reported being able to inhibit the HGT of ARGs via conjugation and transformation, little is known about the intracellular process that mediates the inhibition effects. On the other hand, as typical natural organic matter, fulvic acid is a common environmental influencer, and how it interferes with the effect of biochar on the HGT of ARGs is unknown. Therefore, this study investigated the effects on the conjugative transfer of ARGs between Escherichia coli MG1655 and E. coli HB101 carrying plasmid RP4, with biochars pyrolyzed at three temperatures and with the corresponding biochars coating with fulvic acid. Results showed that biochar with higher pyrolyzed temperature had a more substantial inhibitory effect on the conjugative transfer of the RP4 plasmid. The inhibitory effect of biochar was mainly attributed to (i) down-regulation of plasmid transfer gene expression, including the formation of conjugative transfer channel and plasmid replication, due to restrained adenosine triphosphate (ATP) energy supply and (ii) decreased cell membrane permeability. Conversely, the fulvic acid coating diminished this inhibition effect of biochar, mainly by providing more ATP and strengthening intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) defense. Our findings shed light on the intracellular process that mediates the effects of biochar on the conjugative transfer of ARGs, which would provide support for using biochar to reduce the spread of ARGs.

Keywords: antibiotic resistance genes; biochar; conjugation; horizontal gene transfer; inhibitory effect mechanism.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Charcoal
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Escherichia coli* / genetics
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Plasmids / genetics


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • biochar
  • Charcoal
  • Adenosine Triphosphate