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Developmental dynamics of the preterm infant gut microbiota and antibiotic resistome

Nature Microbiology volume 1, Article number: 16024 (2016) | Download Citation


Development of the preterm infant gut microbiota is emerging as a critical research priority1. Since preterm infants almost universally receive early and often extended antibiotic therapy2, it is important to understand how these interventions alter gut microbiota development3,​4,​5,​6. Analysis of 401 stools from 84 longitudinally sampled preterm infants demonstrates that meropenem, cefotaxime and ticarcillin–clavulanate are associated with significantly reduced species richness. In contrast, vancomycin and gentamicin, the antibiotics most commonly administered to preterm infants, have non-uniform effects on species richness, but these can be predicted with 85% accuracy based on the relative abundance of only two bacterial species and two antibiotic resistance (AR) genes at treatment initiation. To investigate resistome development, we functionally selected resistance to 16 antibiotics from 21 faecal metagenomic expression libraries. Of the 794 AR genes identified, 79% had not previously been classified as AR genes. Combined with deep shotgun sequencing of all stools, we find that multidrug-resistant members of the genera Escherichia, Klebsiella and Enterobacter, genera commonly associated with nosocomial infections, dominate the preterm infant gut microbiota. AR genes that are enriched following specific antibiotic treatments are generally unique to the specific treatment and are highly correlated with the abundance of a single species. The most notable exceptions include ticarcillin–clavulanate and ampicillin, both of which enrich for a large number of overlapping AR genes, and are correlated with Klebsiella pneumoniae. We find that all antibiotic treatments are associated with widespread collateral microbiome impact by enrichment of AR genes that have no known activity against the specific antibiotic driver.

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We thank A. Moore for initial study conception and clinical insight, C. Hall-Moore for assistance in access to cohort samples, M. Wallace for cultured strain characterization, and members of the Dantas lab for discussions of the results and analyses. We also thank families and clinical staff in the Saint Louis Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for their cooperation with study, and Laura Linneman and Julie Hoffmann for their efforts in enrolment and data accrual. This work is supported in part by awards to G.D. through the Children's Discovery Institute (MD-II-2011-117 and 127), the March of Dimes Foundation (6-FY12-394), and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (R01-GM099538). This work is also supported in part by an award to Washington University School of Medicine through a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) Grant (UL1 TR000448). This collection was also supported by the US National Institutes of Health Grants UH3AI083265 and P30DK052574 (Biobank Core), along with funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (made possible by support from the Gerber Foundation). M.K.G. is a Mr. and Mrs. Spencer T. Olin Fellow at Washington University and a National Science Foundation (NSF) graduate research fellow (DGE-1143954). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Author information


  1. Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA

    • Molly K. Gibson
    • , Bin Wang
    • , Sara Ahmadi
    •  & Gautam Dantas
  2. Department of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA

    • Bin Wang
    • , Sara Ahmadi
    • , Carey-Ann D. Burnham
    •  & Gautam Dantas
  3. Department of Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA

    • Carey-Ann D. Burnham
    • , Phillip I. Tarr
    •  & Barbara B. Warner
  4. Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri, USA

    • Phillip I. Tarr
    •  & Gautam Dantas
  5. Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri, USA

    • Gautam Dantas


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P.I.T. and B.B.W. assembled the cohort and developed protocols and infrastructure to obtain the biologics and clinical metadata from the cohort. M.K.G. and G.D. designed and conceived the study. M.K.G. performed 16S rRNA gene sequencing for comparison to term infants. B.W. prepared shotgun metagenomic sequencing libraries. S.A. created metagenomic libraries, performed functional selections, and prepared sequencing libraries. M.K.G. performed functional metagenomic data analysis, shotgun metagenomic data analysis, statistical modelling. M.K.G. wrote the manuscript with contributions from C.A.B., P.I.T., B.B.W., and G.D.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gautam Dantas.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1-9

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 1

    Metadata for 401 stool samples and 84 individuals.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 2

    Functional metagenomic selections of 21 fecal metagenomic expression libraries to 16 antibiotics.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Table 3

    VelvetOptimiser assembly stats for 312 assembled preterm infant meatgenomes.

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