Latent antibiotic resistance genes are abundant, diverse, and mobile in human, animal, and environmental microbiomes
Bacterial communities in humans, animals, and the external environment maintain a large collection of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). However, few of these ARGs are well-characterized and thus established in existing resistance gene databases. In contrast, the remaining latent ARGs are typically unknown and overlooked in most sequencing-based studies. Our view of the resistome and its diversity is therefore incomplete, which hampers our ability to assess risk for promotion and spread of yet undiscovered resistance determinants.
Our results show that latent ARGs are ubiquitously present in all environments and constitute a diverse reservoir from which new resistance determinants can be recruited to pathogens. Several latent ARGs already had high mobile potential and were present in human pathogens, suggesting that they may constitute emerging threats to human health. We conclude that the full resistome—including both latent and established ARGs—needs to be considered to properly assess the risks associated with antibiotic selection pressures.
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