Antibiotic resistance genes are typically isolated by cloning from cultured bacteria or by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification from environmental samples. These methods do not access the potential reservoir of undiscovered antibiotic resistance genes harboured by soil bacteria because most soil bacteria are not cultured readily, and PCR detection of antibiotic resistance genes depends on primers that are based on known genes. To explore this reservoir, we isolated DNA directly from soil samples, cloned the DNA and selected for clones that expressed antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli. We constructed four libraries that collectively contain 4.1 gigabases of cloned soil DNA. From these and two previously reported libraries, we identified nine clones expressing resistance to aminoglycoside antibiotics and one expressing tetracycline resistance. Based on the predicted amino acid sequences of the resistance genes, the resistance mechanisms include efflux of tetracycline and inactivation of aminoglycoside antibiotics by phosphorylation and acetylation. With one exception, all the sequences are considerably different from previously reported sequences. The results indicate that soil bacteria are a reservoir of antibiotic resistance genes with greater genetic diversity than previously accounted for, and that the diversity can be surveyed by a culture-independent method.
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