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Identification of novel antimicrobial resistance genes from microbiota on retail spinach



Drug resistance genes and their mobile genetic elements are frequently identified from environmental saprophytic organisms. It is widely accepted that the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry selects for drug resistant microorganisms, which are then spread from the farm environment to humans through the consumption of contaminated food products. We wished to identify novel drug resistance genes from microbial communities on retail food products. Here, we chose to study the microbial communities on retail spinach because it is commonly eaten raw and has previously been associated with outbreaks of bacterial infections.


We created metagenomic plasmid libraries from microbiota isolated from retail spinach samples. We identified five unique plasmids that increased resistance to antimicrobial drugs in the E. coli host. These plasmids were identified in E. coli that grew on plates that contained ampicillin (pAMP), aztreonam (pAZT), ciprofloxacin (pCIP), trimethoprim (pTRM), and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (pSXT). We identified open reading frames with similarity to known classes of drug resistance genes in the DNA inserts of all 5 plasmids. These drug resistance genes conferred resistance to fluoroquinolones, cephalosporins, and trimethoprim, which are classes of antimicrobial drugs frequently used to treat human Gram negative bacterial infections. These results show that novel drug resistance genes are found in microbiota on retail produce items.


Here we show that microbiota of retail spinach contains DNA sequences previously unidentified as conferring antibiotic resistance. Many of these novel sequences show similarity to genes found in species of bacteria, which have previously been identified as commensal or saprophytic bacteria found on plants. We showed that these resistance genes are capable of conferring clinically relevant levels of resistance to antimicrobial agents. Food saprophytes may serve as an important reservoir for new drug-resistance determinants in human pathogens.

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