More than an anthropogenic phenomenon: Antimicrobial resistance in ungulates from natural and agricultural environments. Academic Article uri icon


  • Widely considered an anthropogenic phenomenon, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a naturally occurring mechanism that microorganisms use to gain competitive advantage. AMR represents a significant threat to public health and has generated criticism towards the overuse of antimicrobial drugs. Livestock have been proposed as important reservoirs for AMR accumulation. Here, we show that assemblages of AMR genes in cattle and ungulates from natural environments (Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks) are all dominated by genes conferring resistance to tetracyclines. However, cattle feces contained higher proportions of erm(A-X) genes conferring resistance to macrolide antibiotics. Medically important AMR genes differed between cattle and natural ungulates, but cumulatively were more predominant in natural soils. Our findings suggest that the commonly described predominance of tetracycline resistance in cattle feces is a natural phenomenon among multiple ungulate species and not solely a result of antimicrobial drug exposure. Yet, the virtual absence of macrolide resistance genes in natural ungulates suggests that macrolide usage in agriculture may enrich these genes in cattle. Our results show that antimicrobial use in agriculture may be promoting a potential reservoir for specific types of AMR (i.e., macrolide resistance) but that a significant proportion of the ungulate resistome appears to have natural origins.

published proceedings

  • Sci Total Environ

altmetric score

  • 3.6

author list (cited authors)

  • Pinnell, L. J., Kuiper, G., Huebner, K. L., Doster, E., Parker, J. K., Alekozai, N., ... Morley, P. S.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Pinnell, Lee J||Kuiper, Grace||Huebner, Kate L||Doster, Enrique||Parker, Jennifer K||Alekozai, Najla||Powers, Jenny G||Wallen, Rick L||Belk, Keith E||Morley, Paul S

publication date

  • February 2023