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FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2001 Jul 10;201(1):1-7.

Bacterial virulence: can we draw the line?

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Division of Bacteriology, Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Utrecht, P.O. Box 80.165, 3508 TD, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The molecular approach to microbial pathogenesis has resulted in an impressive amount of data on bacterial virulence genes. Bacterial genome sequences rapidly add candidate virulence genes to electronic databases. The interpretation of this overwhelming information is obscured because every gene involved in pathogenicity is called a virulence gene, regardless of its function in the complex process of virulence. This review summarizes the changing concept of bacterial virulence and the detection and identification strategies followed to recognize virulence genes. A refined definition of virulence genes is proposed in which the function of the gene in the virulence process is incorporated. We propose to include the life-style of bacteria in the assessment of their putative virulence genes. A universal nomenclature in analogy to the EC enzyme numbering system is proposed. These recommendations would lead to a better insight into bacterial virulence and a more precise annotation of (putative) virulence genes, which would enable more efficient use of electronic databases.

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