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J Intern Med. 2002 Aug;252(2):91-106.

Evolution and spread of antibiotic resistance.

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Swedish Institute of Infectious Disease Control and the Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Antibiotic resistance is a clinical and socioeconomical problem that is here to stay. Resistance can be natural or acquired. Some bacterial species, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, show a high intrinsic resistance to a number of antibiotics whereas others are normally highly antibiotic susceptible such as group A streptococci. Acquired resistance evolve via genetic alterations in the microbes own genome or by horizontal transfer of resistance genes located on various types of mobile DNA elements. Mutation frequencies to resistance can vary dramatically depending on the mechanism of resistance and whether or not the organism exhibits a mutator phenotype. Resistance usually has a biological cost for the microorganism, but compensatory mutations accumulate rapidly that abolish this fitness cost, explaining why many types of resistances may never disappear in a bacterial population. Resistance frequently occurs stepwise making it important to identify organisms with low level resistance that otherwise may constitute the genetic platform for development of higher resistance levels. Self-replicating plasmids, prophages, transposons, integrons and resistance islands all represent DNA elements that frequently carry resistance genes into sensitive organisms. These elements add DNA to the microbe and utilize site-specific recombinases/integrases for their integration into the genome. However, resistance may also be created by homologous recombination events creating mosaic genes where each piece of the gene may come from a different microbe. The selection with antibiotics have informed us much about the various genetic mechanisms that are responsible for microbial evolution.

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