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Discov Med. 2010 Aug;10(51):112-8.

The evolution of antibiotic resistance: insight into the roles of molecular mechanisms of resistance and treatment context.

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Institution: Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK.


The widespread use of antibiotics has markedly improved public health over the last 60 years. However, the efficacy of antibiotic treatment is rapidly decreasing as a result of the continual spread of antibiotic resistance in pathogen populations. The evolution of antibiotic resistance is an amazingly simple example of adaptation by natural selection, and there is growing interest among evolutionary biologists in using evolutionary principles to help understand and combat the spread of resistance in pathogen populations. In this article, we review recent progress in our understanding of the underlying evolutionary forces that drive antibiotic resistance. Recent work has shown that both the mechanisms of antibiotic action and resistance, as well as the treatment context in which resistance evolves, influence the evolution of resistance in predictable ways. We argue that developing predictive models of resistance evolution that can be used to prevent the spread of resistance in pathogen populations requires integrating the treatment context and the molecular biology of resistance into the same evolutionary framework.

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