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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. May 29, 2000; 355(1397): 695–704.
PMCID: PMC1692774

Evolution of microbial pathogens.


Various genetic mechanisms including point mutations, genetic rearrangements and lateral gene transfer processes contribute to the evolution of microbes. Long-term processes leading to the development of new species or subspecies are termed macroevolution, and short-term developments, which occur during days or weeks, are considered as microevolution. Both processes, macro- and microevolution need horizontal gene transfer, which is particularly important for the development of pathogenic microorganisms. Plasmids, bacteriophages and so-called pathogenicity islands (PAIs) play a crucial role in the evolution of pathogens. During microevolution, genome variability of pathogenic microbes leads to new phenotypes, which play an important role in the acute development of an infectious disease. Infections due to Staphylococcus epidermidis, Candida albicans and Escherichia coli will be described with special emphasis on processes of microevolution. In contrast, the development of PAIs is a process involved in macroevolution. PAIs are especially important in processes leading to new pathotypes or even species. In this review, particular attention will be given to the fact that the evolution of pathogenic microbes can be considered as a specific example for microbial evolution in general.

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