Soil biota, antimicrobial resistance and planetary health



In a new study in the journal Environmental International authors use the connection between antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance as an example to demonstrate the complex feedbacks that occur when humans perturb environmental processes. Photo by: Pixabay.

Planetary health is a new field examining the links between human health and the natural environment. Planetary health acknowledges that human health and well-being are inextricably linked to planetary systems, and the integrity of the natural environment needs to be protected to ensure the long-term health of human populations. Soil is a critical component of the planetary health system, it plays a fundamental role in human health and well-being, primarily because most food is derived from soil but also through ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, pollutant remediation and synthesis of bioactive compounds such as antimicrobials. Soil is also a natural source of antimicrobial resistance, which is often termed intrinsic resistance.

In a new review in the journal Environmental International authors use the nexus of antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance as a focus to discuss the role of soil in planetary health and illustrate the impacts of soil microbiomes on human health and well-being. “This review examines the sources and dynamics of antimicrobial resistance in soils and uses the perspective of planetary health to track the movement of antimicrobial-resistance genes between environmental compartments, including soil, water, food and air”, said Prof. Yon-Guan Zhu from the State Key Lab of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.

According to this review the increasing use and misuse of antimicrobials in humans and animals in recent decades has increased both the diversity and prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in soils, particularly in areas affected by human and animal wastes, such as organic manures and reclaimed wastewater, and also by air transmission. “Antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance are two sides of the sword, while antimicrobials are essential in health care; globally, antimicrobial resistance is jeopardizing the effectiveness of antimicrobial drugs, thus threatening human health”, said Prof Josep Peñuelas from CREAF-CSIC.

In this review, authors highlight the role of soil and soil fauna microbiomes as source of bioactive compounds, including antibiotics, which have the diverse and abundant intrinsic resistome. Human activities (e.g. misuse of antibiotics) are increasing these resistome and promoting the dispersal of them at the global scale. The increasing abundance of antibiotic-resistance genes (ARGs) in the soil ecosystem has clear and direct implications for planetary health. Management of soil biota – both the microbiota and larger organisms – is vitally important for safeguarding planetary health.

“Soil is a crucial pathway through which humans are exposed to antimicrobial resistance determinants, including those harbored by human pathogens and it is urgent to develop frameworks of risk assessment for antibiotics and ARGs in soils, which should include human exposure pathways and risk quantification”, said Prof Josep Peñuelas from CREAF-CSIC.

Reference: Zhu, Y-G., Zhao, YI., Zhu, D., Gillings, M., Penuelas, J., Sik Ok, Y., Capon, A., Banwart, S. 2019. Soil biota, antimicrobial resistance and planetary health. Environmental International, 131, 105059. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2019.105059..