Microplastic-associated microbes are becoming more common in aquatic environments

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Microplastics are reservoirs for microbial communities. Scientists are finding that microbes associated with microplastics tend to have biocidal-, metal-, and antibiotic-resistant genes. This “plastiome” could perpetuate harmful antibiotic resistant genes in microbes in the environment. Scientists assess microbial communities on plastics in two rivers near Tokyo, Japan.

Abstract: Aquatic microplastics (MPs) act as reservoirs for microbial communities, fostering the formation of a mobile resistome encompassing diverse antibiotic (ARGs) and biocide/metal resistance genes (BMRGs), and mobile genetic elements (MGEs). This collective genetic repertoire, referred to as the “plastiome,” can potentially perpetuate environmental antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Our study examining two Japanese rivers near Tokyo revealed that waterborne MPs are primarily composed of polyethylene and polypropylene fibers and sheets of diverse origin. Clinically important genera like Exiguobacterium and Eubacterium were notably enriched on MPs. Metagenomic analysis uncovered a 3.46-fold higher enrichment of ARGs on MPs than those in water, with multidrug resistance genes (MDRGs) and BMRGs prevailing, particularly within MPs. Specific ARG and BMRG subtypes linked to resistance to vancomycin, beta-lactams, biocides, arsenic, and mercury showed selective enrichment on MPs. Network analysis revealed intense associations between host genera with ARGs, BMRGs, and MGEs on MPs, emphasizing their role in coselection. In contrast, river water exhibited weaker associations. This study underscores the complex interactions shaping the mobile plastiome in aquatic environments and emphasizes the global imperative for research to comprehend and effectively control AMR within the One Health framework.

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