Plastics in the marine environment are reservoirs for antibiotic and metal resistance genes

Yuyi Yang, Guihua Liu, Wenjuan Song, Chen Ye, Hui Lin, Zan Li, Wenzhi Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

298 Citations (Scopus)
402 Downloads (Pure)


Plastics have been accumulated offshore and in the deep oceans at an unprecedented scale. Microbial communities have colonized the plastisphere, which has become a reservoir for both antibiotic and metal resistance genes (ARGs and MRGs). This is the first analysis of the diversity, abundance, and co-occurrence of ARGs and MRGs, and their relationships within the microbial community, using metagenomic data of plastic particles observed in the North Pacific Gyre obtained from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information Sequence Read Archive database. The abundance of ARGs and MRGs in microbial communities on the plastics were in the ranges 7.07 × 10−4–1.21 × 10−2 and 5.51 × 10−3–4.82 × 10−2 copies per 16S rRNA, respectively. Both the Shannon-Wiener indices and richness of ARGs and MRGs in plastics microbiota were significantly greater than those of ARGs and MRGs in seawater microbiota in the North Pacific Gyre via one-way analysis of variance. Multidrug resistance genes and multi-metal resistance genes were the main classes of genes detected in plastic microbiota. There were no significant differences in the abundance or diversity of ARGs and MRGs between macroplastics biota and microplastics biota, indicating that particle size had no effect on resistance genes. Procrustes analysis suggested that microbial community composition was the determining factor of the ARG profile but not for MRG. Some ARGs and MRGs had a higher incidence of non-random co-occurrence, suggesting that the co-effects of selection for antibiotic or metal resistance are important factors influencing the resistome of the microbiota on the plastic particles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-86
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date28 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Macroplastics
  • Metagenomic analysis
  • Microplastics
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Resistance genes
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Metagenomics
  • Water Pollution/analysis
  • Metals
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Microbiota
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial/genetics
  • Seawater/microbiology
  • Plastics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Plastics in the marine environment are reservoirs for antibiotic and metal resistance genes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this