Towards a general model for predicting minimal metal concentrations co-selecting for antibiotic resistance plasmids

Arya, Sankalp and Williams, Alexander and Vazquez Reina, Saul and Knapp, Charles W. and Kreft, Jan-Ulrich and Hobman, Jon L. and Stekel, Dov J. (2021) Towards a general model for predicting minimal metal concentrations co-selecting for antibiotic resistance plasmids. Environmental Pollution, 275. 116602. ISSN 0269-7491 (

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Many antibiotic resistance genes co-occur with resistance genes for transition metals, such as copper, zinc, or mercury. In some environments, a positive correlation between high metal concentration and high abundance of antibiotic resistance genes has been observed, suggesting co-selection due to metal presence. Of particular concern is the use of copper and zinc in animal husbandry, leading to potential co-selection for antibiotic resistance in animal gut microbiomes, slurry, manure, or amended soils. For antibiotics, predicted no effect concentrations have been derived from laboratory measured minimum inhibitory concentrations and some minimal selective concentrations have been investigated in environmental settings. However, minimal co-selection concentrations for metals are difficult to identify. Here, we use mathematical modelling to provide a general mechanistic framework to predict minimal co-selective concentrations for metals, given knowledge of their toxicity at different concentrations. We apply the method to copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb) and silver (Ag), predicting their minimum co-selective concentrations in mg/L (Cu: 5.5, Zn: 1.6, Hg: 0.0156, Pb: 21.5, Ag: 0.152). To exemplify use of these thresholds, we consider metal concentrations from slurry and slurry-amended soil from a UK dairy farm that uses copper and zinc as additives for feed and antimicrobial footbath: the slurry is predicted to be co-selective, but not the slurry-amended soil. This modelling framework could be used as the basis for defining standards to mitigate risks of antimicrobial resistance applicable to a wide range of environments, including manure, slurry and other waste streams. We provide a general framework to predict minimal co-selective concentrations for metals as environmental co-selective agents for antibiotic resistance, using mechanistic differential equations, and apply the method to copper, zinc, mercury, lead and silver.