Review Article | Published:

Antibiotic and pesticide susceptibility and the Anthropocene operating space

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages632641 (2018) | Download Citation

Rising levels of antimicrobial and pesticide resistance increasingly undermine human health and systems for biomass production, and emphasize the sustainability challenge of preserving organisms susceptible to these biocides. In this Review, we introduce key concepts and examine dynamics of biocide susceptibility that must be governed to address this challenge. We focus on the impact of biocides on the capacity of susceptible organisms to prevent spread of resistance, and we then review how biocide use affects a broader suite of ecosystem services. Finally, we introduce and assess the state of what we term the Anthropocene operating space of biocide susceptibility, a framework for assessing the potential of antibiotic and pesticide resistance to undermine key functions of human society. Based on current trends in antibiotic, insecticide and herbicide resistance, we conclude that the states of all six assessed variables are beyond safe zones, with three variables surpassed regionally or globally.

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This is a product of the Living with Resistance project supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1639145 and led by P.S.J. and S.P.C. We thank everyone who contributed to the four project meetings in 2016 and 2017. P.S.J. acknowledges funding from the Carlsberg foundation CF14-1050 and CF15-0988, FORMAS 2016-00451 and the Erling-Persson Family programme.

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Author notes

  1. A full list of authors and affiliations appears at the end of the paper.


  1. Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, Sweden

    • Peter Søgaard Jørgensen
    •  & Franziska Klein
  2. Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

    • Peter Søgaard Jørgensen
    •  & Maja Schlüter
  3. Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

    • Athena Aktipis
  4. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

    • Zachary Brown
    •  & Robert R. Dunn
  5. University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Yves Carrière
    •  & George B. Frisvold
  6. CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Narrabri, NSW, Australia

    • Sharon Downes
  7. University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

    • Graham Epstein
  8. SESYNC, University of Maryland, Annapolis, MD, USA

    • David Hawthorne
  9. Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostics Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

    • Yrjö T. Gröhn
    •  & Guillaume Lhermie
  10. South Asia Biotechnology Centre, New Delhi, Delhi, India

    • Govind Tikaramsa Gujar
  11. ReAct - Action on Antibiotic Resistance, Department of Medical Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

    • Dušan Jasovský
  12. Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, Washington DC, USA

    • Eili Y. Klein
  13. Department of Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

    • Eili Y. Klein
  14. Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

    • David Mota-Sanchez
  15. Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

    • Celso Omoto
  16. Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

    • H. Morgan Scott
  17. Geneva Transformative Governance Lab, Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland

    • Didier Wernli
  18. School of Public Health, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, People’s Republic of China

    • Didier Wernli
  19. Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA, USA

    • Scott P. Carroll


  1. Living with Resistance project


P.S.J. conceived the manuscript on the basis of four workshops where all authors contributed in person or virtually. P.S.J. wrote the first draft of the manuscript with primary contributions from Y.C., S.D., R.R.D., G.E., G.L., H.M.S. and D.W. P.S.J., Y.C., E.Y.K., D.W. and D.J. performed the assessment of the Anthropocene operating space. P.S.J. and F.K. designed the figures. M.S. and P.S.J. conceived the feedback loops of Fig. 4. All authors commented on and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

DowDuPont and Monsanto did not provide funding to support this work, but may be affected by the publication of this paper and have funded other work by Y.C. All other authors have no competing interests.

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