Mobilome-driven segregation of the resistome in biological wastewater treatment

Elife. 2022 Sep 16:11:e81196. doi: 10.7554/eLife.81196.


Biological wastewater treatment plants (BWWTP) are considered to be hotspots for the evolution and subsequent spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) promote the mobilization and dissemination of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) and are thereby critical mediators of AMR within the BWWTP microbial community. At present, it is unclear whether specific AMR categories are differentially disseminated via bacteriophages (phages) or plasmids. To understand the segregation of AMR in relation to MGEs, we analyzed meta-omic (metagenomic, metatranscriptomic and metaproteomic) data systematically collected over 1.5 years from a BWWTP. Our results showed a core group of 15 AMR categories which were found across all timepoints. Some of these AMR categories were disseminated exclusively (bacitracin) or primarily (aminoglycoside, MLS and sulfonamide) via plasmids or phages (fosfomycin and peptide), whereas others were disseminated equally by both. Combined and timepoint-specific analyses of gene, transcript and protein abundances further demonstrated that aminoglycoside, bacitracin and sulfonamide resistance genes were expressed more by plasmids, in contrast to fosfomycin and peptide AMR expression by phages, thereby validating our genomic findings. In the analyzed communities, the dominant taxon Candidatus Microthrix parvicella was a major contributor to several AMR categories whereby its plasmids primarily mediated aminoglycoside resistance. Importantly, we also found AMR associated with ESKAPEE pathogens within the BWWTP, and here MGEs also contributed differentially to the dissemination of the corresponding ARGs. Collectively our findings pave the way toward understanding the segmentation of AMR within MGEs, thereby shedding new light on resistome populations and their mediators, essential elements that are of immediate relevance to human health.

Keywords: antimicrobial resistance; infectious disease; metagenomics; metaproteomics; metatranscriptomics; microbiology; microbiome; none; wastewater treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminoglycosides
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacitracin
  • Bacteriophages* / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Fosfomycin*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Metagenomics
  • Sulfonamides
  • Wastewater
  • Water Purification*


  • Waste Water
  • Fosfomycin
  • Bacitracin
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Aminoglycosides
  • Sulfonamides

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.