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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2011 Sep;35(5):790-819. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2011.00273.x. Epub 2011 May 20.

Gene flow, mobile genetic elements and the recruitment of antibiotic resistance genes into Gram-negative pathogens.

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The i3 Institute, University of Technology, Broadway 2007, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


Antibiotics were one of the great discoveries of the 20th century. However, resistance appeared even in the earliest years of the antibiotic era. Antibiotic resistance continues to become worse, despite the ever-increasing resources devoted to combat the problem. One of the most important factors in the development of resistance to antibiotics is the remarkable ability of bacteria to share genetic resources via Lateral Gene Transfer (LGT). LGT occurs on a global scale, such that in theory, any gene in any organism anywhere in the microbial biosphere might be mobilized and spread. With sufficiently strong selection, any gene may spread to a point where it establishes a global presence. From an antibiotic resistance perspective, this means that a resistance phenotype can appear in a diverse range of infections around the globe nearly simultaneously. We discuss the forces and agents that make this LGT possible and argue that the problem of resistance can ultimately only be managed by understanding the problem from a broad ecological and evolutionary perspective. We also argue that human activities are exacerbating the problem by increasing the tempo of LGT and bacterial evolution for many traits that are important to humans.

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