Mitigation effects and microbial mechanism of two ecological earthworms on the uptake of chlortetracycline and antibiotic resistance genes in lettuce

Yang, Side; Lu, Chenxi; Qin, Cheng; Lu, Chang; Pan, Zheng; Zhao, Lixia; Bai, Mohan; Li, Xiaojing; Sun, Yang; Weng, Liping; Li, Yongtao


The contamination of greenhouse vegetable soils with antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), caused by the application of livestock and poultry manure, is a prominent environmental problem. In this study, the effects of two ecological earthworms (endogeic Metaphire guillelmi and epigeic Eisenia fetida) on the accumulation and transfer of chlortetracycline (CTC) and ARGs in a soil–lettuce system were studied via pot experiments. The results revealed that earthworm application accelerated the removal of the CTC from the soil and lettuce roots and leaves, with the CTC content reducing by 11.7–22.8 %, 15.7–36.1 %, and 8.93–19.6 % compared with that of the control, respectively. Both earthworms significantly reduced the CTC uptake by lettuce roots from the soil (P < 0.05) but did not change the CTC transfer efficiency from the roots to leaves. The high-throughput quantitative PCR results showed that the relative abundance of ARGs in the soil and lettuce roots and leaves decreased by 22.4–27.0 %, 25.1–44.1 %, and 24.4–25.4 %, respectively, with the application of earthworms. Earthworm addition decreased the interspecific bacterial interactions and the relative abundance of mobile genetic elements (MGEs), which helped reduce the dissemination of ARGs. Furthermore, some indigenous soil antibiotic degraders (Pseudomonas, Flavobacterium, Sphingobium, and Microbacterium) were stimulated by the earthworms. The results of redundancy analysis indicated that the bacterial community composition, CTC residues, and MGEs were the main parameters affecting the distribution of ARGs, accounting for 91.1 % of the total distribution. In addition, the bacterial function prediction results showed that the addition of earthworms reduced the abundance of some pathogenic bacteria in the system. Overall, our findings imply that earthworm application can substantially reduce the accumulation and transmission risk of antibiotics and ARGs in soil–lettuce systems, providing a cost-effective soil bioremediation practice for addressing antibiotic and ARGs contamination to guarantee the safety of vegetables and human health.