Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version



Front. Microbiol. 9:1283


Open access

doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.01283


There is widespread agreement that agricultural antibiotic resistance should be reduced, however, it is unclear from the available literature what an appropriate target for reduction would be. Organic farms provide a unique opportunity to disentangle questions of agricultural antibiotic drug use from questions of antibiotic resistance in the soil. In this study, soil was collected from 12 certified organic farms in Nebraska, evaluated for the presence of tetracycline and sulfonamide resistance genes (n = 15 targets), and correlated to soil physical, chemical, and biological parameters. Tetracycline and sulfonamide antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) were found in soils from all 12 farms, and 182 of the 196 soil samples (93%). The most frequently detected gene was tetG (55% of samples), followed by tet(Q) (49%), tet(S) (46%), tet(X) (30%), and tetA(P) (29%). Soil was collected from two depths. No differences in ARGs were observed based on soil depth. Positive correlations were noted between ARG presence and soil electrical conductivity, and concentrations of Ca, Na, and Mehlich-3 phosphorus. Data from this study point to possible relationships between selected soil properties and individual tetracycline resistance genes, including tet(O) which is a common target for environmental samples. We compared organic farm results to previously published data from prairie soils and found significant differences in detection frequency for 12 genes, eight of which were more commonly detected in prairie soils. Of interest, when tetracycline ARG results were sorted by gene mechanism, the efflux genes were generally present in higher frequency in the prairie soils, while the ribosomal protection and enzymatic genes were more frequently detected in organic farm soils, suggesting a possible ecological role for specific tetracycline resistance mechanisms. By comparing soil from organic farms with prairie soils, we can start to determine baseline effects of low-chemical input agricultural production practices on multiple measures of resistance.