Mobilizable antibiotic resistance genes are present in dust microbial communities

Sarah Ben Maamar, Adam J. Glawe, Taylor K. Brown, Nancy Hellgeth, Jinglin Hu, Ji Ping Wang, Curtis Huttenhower, Erica M. Hartmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The decades-long global trend of urbanization has led to a population that spends increasing amounts of time indoors. Exposure to microbes in buildings, and specifically in dust, is thus also increasing, and has been linked to various health outcomes and to antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). These are most efficiently screened using DNA sequencing, but this method does not determine which microbes are viable, nor does it reveal whether their ARGs can actually disseminate to other microbes. We have thus performed the first study to: 1) examine the potential for ARG dissemination in indoor dust microbial communities, and 2) validate the presence of detected mobile ARGs in viable dust bacteria. Specifically, we integrated 166 dust metagenomes from 43 different buildings. Sequences were assembled, annotated, and screened for potential integrons, transposons, plasmids, and associated ARGs. The same dust samples were further investigated using cultivation and isolate genome and plasmid sequencing. Potential ARGs were detected in dust isolate genomes, and we confirmed their placement on mobile genetic elements using long-read sequencing. We found 183 ARGs, of which 52 were potentially mobile (associated with a putative plasmid, transposon or integron). One dust isolate related to Staphylococcus equorum proved to contain a plasmid carrying an ARG that was detected metagenomically and confirmed through whole genome and plasmid sequencing. This study thus highlights the power of combining cultivation with metagenomics to assess the risk of potentially mobile ARGs for public health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1008211
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Virology
  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology


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