Marine Plasmids Driving the Spread of Antibiotic Resistances

Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) are one of the most challenging contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). Instead of being directly produced by human activity, ARGs emerge as consequence of antibiotic use in clinical settings, and residual antibiotic contamination. ARGs spread through horizontal gene transfer and conjugative plasmids, because their ability to cross inter-species barriers, are key in this process. Recent findings revealed the existence of marine plasmids (MAPS) of global distribution and broad host range. These MAPS can transmit ARGs across oceanic distances, and may reintroduce them to human food chains via marine products. They are, however, different to classical plasmids from clinical settings. MAPMAR uses metagenomics, data science and single-cell sequencing to obtain a catalog of most prevalent and transmissible MAPs. By testing methods to block their transmission, MAPMAR explores strategies to curtail the risk of oceans acting as highways for ARG propagation.



Horizontal Gene Transfer, Antibiotic resistance, Plasmid, Metagenomics, Single-Cell Sequencing


Achievements so far

MAPMAR studies the transfer of antibiotic resistance in marine bacteria, focusing on the prevalence and impact of conjugative plasmids. This knowledge is essential for developing strategies to control their spread in aquatic environments. MAPMAR focuses on characterising marine plasmids, building a comprehensive repertoire and comparing their structures with those in terrestrial ecosystems.To address under sampling, the project will reconstruct plasmid backbones from genomic and metagenomic data. By obtaining model plasmids from marine bacteria, the project aims to study transfer rates and host ranges, serving as experimental models for understanding plasmid-mediated horizontal gene transfer in the sea. By studying human activities, particularly mariculture, the project will investigate the impact on the spread of antibiotic resistance genes. Finally, MAPMAR is investigating the feasibility of using conjugation inhibitors to block plasmid transfer, potentially reducing antibiotic resistance in marine ecosystems and seafood production.


If you're interested in scientific publications associated with MAPMAR, click here.



Project Coordinator:
Prof. Fernando de la Cruz,
University of Cantabria – Institute for Biomedicine and Biotechnology, Spain


Partner Institutions:
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR), National Center for Mariculture (NCM) – Israel

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Biological Interfaces (IBG5) – Germany