Today, Microbiome put online a paper lead-authored by my colleague Fanny Berglund – one of Erik Kristiansson’s brilliant PhD students – in which we identify 76 novel metallo-ß-lactamases (1). This feat was made possible because of a new computational method designed by Fanny, which uses a hidden Markov model based on known B1 metallo-ß-lactamases. We analyzed over 10,000 bacterial genomes and plasmids and over 5 terabases of metagenomic data and could thereby predict 76 novel genes. These genes clustered into 59 new families of metallo-β-lactamases (given a 70% identity threshold). We also verified the functionality of 21 of these genes experimentally, and found that 18 were able to hydrolyze imipenem when inserted into Escherichia coli. Two of the novel genes contained atypical zinc-binding motifs in their active sites. Finally, we show that the B1 metallo-β-lactamases can be divided into five major groups based on their phylogenetic origin. It seems that nearly all of the previously characterized mobile B1 β-lactamases we identify in this study were likely to have originated from chromosomal genes present in species within the Proteobacteria, particularly Shewanella spp.

This study more than doubles the number of known B1 metallo-β-lactamases. As with the study by Boulund et al. (2) which we published last month on computational discovery of novel fluoroquinolone resistance genes (which used a very similar approach but on a completely different type of genes), this study also supports the hypothesis that environmental bacterial communities act as sources of uncharacterized antibiotic resistance genes (3-7). Fanny have done a fantastic job on this paper, and I highly recommend reading it in its entirety (it’s open access so you have virtually no excuse not to). It can be found here.


  1. Berglund F, Marathe NP, Österlund T, Bengtsson-Palme J, Kotsakis S, Flach C-F, Larsson DGJ, Kristiansson E: Identification of 76 novel B1 metallo-β-lactamases through large-scale screening of genomic and metagenomic data. Microbiome, 5, 134 (2017). doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0353-8
  2. Boulund F, Berglund F, Flach C-F, Bengtsson-Palme J, Marathe NP, Larsson DGJ, Kristiansson E: Computational discovery and functional validation of novel fluoroquinolone resistance genes in public metagenomic data sets. BMC Genomics, 18, 682 (2017). doi: 10.1186/s12864-017-4064-0
  3. Bengtsson-Palme J, Larsson DGJ: Antibiotic resistance genes in the environment: prioritizing risks. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13, 369 (2015). doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3399-c1
  4. Allen HK, Donato J, Wang HH et al.: Call of the wild: antibiotic resistance genes in natural environments. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 8, 251–259 (2010).
  5. Berendonk TU, Manaia CM, Merlin C et al.: Tackling antibiotic resistance: the environmental framework. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13, 310–317 (2015).
  6. Martinez JL: Bottlenecks in the transferability of antibiotic resistance from natural ecosystems to human bacterial pathogens. Frontiers in Microbiology, 2, 265 (2011).
  7. Finley RL, Collignon P, Larsson DGJ et al.: The scourge of antibiotic resistance: the important role of the environment. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 57, 704–710 (2013).