Bengtsson-Palme J, Jonsson V, Heß S
Environ. Sci. Technol. 55 (23) 15734-15743 [2021-12-07; online 2021-11-18]
It is generally accepted that intervention strategies to curb antibiotic resistance cannot solely focus on human and veterinary medicine but must also consider environmental settings. While the environment clearly has a role in transmission of resistant bacteria, its role in the emergence of novel antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) is less clear. It has been suggested that the environment constitutes an enormous recruitment ground for ARGs to pathogens, but its extent is practically unknown. We have constructed a model framework for resistance emergence and used available quantitative data on relevant processes to identify limiting steps in the appearance of ARGs in human pathogens. We found that in a majority of possible scenarios, the environment would only play a minor role in the emergence of novel ARGs. However, the uncertainty is enormous, highlighting an urgent need for more quantitative data. Specifically, more data is most needed on the fitness costs of ARG carriage, the degree of dispersal of resistant bacteria from the environment to humans, and the rates of mobilization and horizontal transfer of ARGs. This type of data is instrumental to determine which processes should be targeted for interventions to curb development and transmission of ARGs in the environment.