Antibiotic resistance is arguably the most important threat to human health and medical care globally. The resistance crisis has been compared to the climate change issue, in that mitigation strategies to prevent disastrous consequences must be implemented immediately. However, although resistance development and spread in clinics and society are relatively well understood, we still lack knowledge on how the environment outside the human body contributes to this situation and how that affects future resistance scenarios. This means that dissemination routes, selective concentrations, co-selection of antibiotic resistance by other chemicals, and environments of particular concern remain unclear.

My research in this area has mostly been applying metagenomic approaches to quantify resistance gene abundances, potential for genetic mobility, and assess the taxonomic composition of communities in different environments. Thereby, we want to shed light on which environments that could be considered high-risk environments. In this process, we have studied environments subjected to pharmaceutical pollution, Swedish sewage treatment plants, as well as artificial microcosms. Furthermore, we have assessed spread of resistance determinants by travel. I am also involved in studying the potential for co-selection of different antibiotics and other chemicals and metals. Finally, we have theoretically determined minimal selective concentrations for antibiotics, and aim to follow up on that work by actual experimental determination efforts.

Open questions of interest

  1. Which environments constitute particular high-risk settings for resistance development?
  2. How does the environment contribute to the emergence of novel resistance determinants?
  3. Which are the important dispersal routes for antibiotic resistance genes and resistant microbes to the human microbiome?
  4. What are the minimal selective concentrations of antibiotics (and other chemicals) in complex communities?

Key publications

  • Bengtsson-Palme J, Boulund F, Fick J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Shotgun metagenomics reveals a wide array of antibiotic resistance genes and mobile elements in a polluted lake in India. Frontiers in Microbiology, 5, 648 (2014). doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00648 [Paper link]
  • Bengtsson-Palme J, Angelin M, Huss M, Kjellqvist S, Kristiansson E, Palmgren H, Larsson DGJ, Johansson A: The human gut microbiome as a transporter of antibiotic resistance genes between continents. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 59, 10, 6551-6560 (2015). doi: 10.1128/AAC.00933-15 [Paper link]
  • Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Concentrations of antibiotics predicted to select for resistant bacteria: Proposed limits for environmental regulation. Environment International, 86, 140-149 (2016). doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.10.015 [Paper link]
  • Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Antibiotic resistance genes in the environment: prioritizing risks. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13, 369 (2015). doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3399-c1 [Paper link]
  • Pal C, Bengtsson-Palme J, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: Co-occurrence of resistance genes to antibiotics, biocides and metals reveals novel insights into their co-selection potential. BMC Genomics, 16, 964 (2015). doi: 10.1186/s12864-015-2153-5 [Paper link]
  • Pal C, Bengtsson-Palme J, Rensing C, Kristiansson E, Larsson DGJ: BacMet: Antibacterial biocide and metal resistance genes database. Nucleic Acids Research, 42, D1, D737-D743 (2014). doi: 10.1093/nar/gkt1252 [Paper link]