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Mol Microbiol. 2005 Apr;56(1):1-7.

The origin and evolution of human pathogens.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Molecular Microbiology, Washington University School of Medicine, Campus Box 8230, 660 S. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, Missouri 63110-1093, USA.


What are the genetic origins of human pathogens? An international group of scientists discussed this topic at a workshop that took place in late October 2004 in Baeza (Spain). Focusing primarily on bacterial pathogens, they examined the role that pathogenicity islands and bacteriophages play on determining the virulence properties that distinguish closely related members of a given species, such as host range and tissue specificity. They also discussed an instance in which closely related bacterial species differ in the production of a cell surface modification mediating resistance to an antibiotic as a result of the disparate regulation of homologous genes. In certain pathogens, genes normally carrying out housekeeping functions may adopt new functions, whereas in other organisms, genes that respond to stresses associated with non-host environments are silenced during infection to prevent the expression of products that interfere with the normal colonization process. The adaptive behaviour of certain pathogens relies on gene variation at certain loci that by virtue of containing polymeric repeats in regulatory or coding regions, can generate variants that may or may not express products that modify the cell surface of the organism. The meeting also addressed the properties of ORFan genes, which have no homologues in the sequence databases, as well as the creation of genes de novo by duplication and divergence.

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