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Methods Mol Biol. 2009;532:397-411. doi: 10.1007/978-1-60327-853-9_23.

What antimicrobial resistance has taught us about horizontal gene transfer.

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University of California, Merced, Merced, CA, USA.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) has been responsible for the dissemination of numerous antimicrobial-resistance determinants throughout diverse bacterial species. The rapid and broad dissemination of resistance determinants by HGT, and subsequent selection for resistance imposed by the use of antimicrobials, threatens to undermine the usefulness of antimicrobials. However, vigilant surveillance of the emerging antimicrobial resistance in clinical settings and subsequent studies of resistant isolates create a powerful system for studying HGT and detecting rare events. Two of the most closely monitored phenotypes are resistance to beta-lactams and resistance to fluoroquinolones. Studies of resistance to these antimicrobials have revealed that (1) transformation occurs between different species of bacteria including some recipient species that were not previously known to be competent for natural transformation; (2) transduction may be playing an important role in generating novel methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains, although the details of transferring the SCCmec element are not yet fully understood; (3) Resistance genes are probably moving to plasmids from chromosomes more rapidly than in the past; and (4) Resistance genes are aggregating upon plasmids. The linkage of numerous resistance genes on individual plasmids may underlie the persistence of resistance to specific antimicrobials even when use of those antimicrobials is discontinued. Further studies of HGT and methods for controlling HGT may be necessary to maintain the usefulness of antimicrobials.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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