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Mob Genet Elements. 2012 Mar 1;2(2):96-100.

Distribution of horizontally transferred heavy metal resistance operons in recent outbreak bacteria.

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  • 1Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Unit; Department of Biochemistry; University of Pretoria; Pretoria, South Africa.


Mankind is confronted by the outbreaks of highly virulent and multi-drug resistant pathogens. The outbreak strains often belong to well-known diseases associated species such as Salmonella, Klebsiella and Mycobacterium, but even normally commensal and environmental microorganisms may suddenly acquire properties of virulent bacteria and cause nosocomial infections. The acquired virulence is often associated with lateral exchange of pathogenicity genomic islands containing drug and heavy metal resistance determinants. Metal ions are used by the immune system of macro-organisms against bactericidal agents. The ability to control heavy metal homeostasis is a factor that allows the survival of pathogenic microorganisms in macrophages. In this paper, we investigate the origin of heavy metal resistance operons in the recent outbreak strains and the possible routes which may lead to acquisitions of these genes by potentially new pathogens. We hypothesize that new outbreak microorganisms appear intermittently on an intersection of the non-specialized, genetically naïve strains of potential pathogens and virulence factor comprising vectors (plasmid and/or phages) newly generated in the environmental microflora. Global contamination of the environment and climate change may also have an effect toward the acceleration and appearance of new pathogens.

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