Sewage from Airplanes Exhibits High Abundance and Diversity of Antibiotic Resistance Genes
Journal article, 2019

Airplane sanitary facilities are shared by an international audience. We hypothesized the corresponding sewage to be an extraordinary source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) and resistance genes (ARG) in terms of diversity and quantity. Accordingly, we analyzed ARG and ARB in airplane-borne sewage using complementary approaches: Metagenomics, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), and cultivation. For the purpose of comparison, we also quantified ARG and ARB in the inlets of municipal treatment plants with and without connection to airports. As expected, airplane sewage contained an extraordinarily rich set of mobile ARG, and the relative abundances of genes were mostly increased compared to typical raw sewage of municipal origin. Moreover, combined resistance against third-generation cephalosporins, fluorochinolones, and aminoglycosides was unusually common (28.9%) among Escherichia coli isolated from airplane sewage. This percentage exceeds the one reported for German clinical isolates by a factor of 8. Our findings suggest that airplane-borne sewage can effectively contribute to the fast and global spread of antibiotic resistance.



Polymerase chain reaction

escherichia coli



Stefanie Heß

University of Helsinki

David Kneis

Technische Universität Dresden


Tobias Österlund

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Statistics

Bing Li

Tsinghua University

Erik Kristiansson

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Statistics

Thomas U. Berendonk

Technische Universität Dresden

Environmental Science & Technology

0013-936X (ISSN) 1520-5851 (eISSN)

Vol. 53 23 13898-13905

Subject Categories

Infectious Medicine


Microbiology in the medical area





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