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Front Microbiol. 2013 May 30;4:138. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00138. eCollection 2013.

The antibiotic resistance "mobilome": searching for the link between environment and clinic.

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M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, McMaster University Hamilton, ON, Canada ; Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, McMaster University Hamilton, ON, Canada.


Antibiotic resistance is an ancient problem, owing to the co-evolution of antibiotic-producing and target organisms in the soil and other environments over millennia. The environmental "resistome" is the collection of all genes that directly or indirectly contribute to antibiotic resistance. Many of these resistance determinants originate in antibiotic-producing organisms (where they serve to mediate self-immunity), while others become resistance determinants only when mobilized and over-expressed in non-native hosts (like plasmid-encoded β-lactamases). The modern environmental resistome is under selective pressure from human activities such as agriculture, which may influence the composition of the local resistome and lead to gene transfer events. Beyond the environment, we are challenged in the clinic by the rise in both frequency and diversity of antibiotic resistant pathogens. We assume that clinical resistance originated in the environment, but few examples of direct gene exchange between the environmental resistome and the clinical resistome have been documented. Strong evidence exists to suggest that clinical aminoglycoside and vancomycin resistance enzymes, the extended-spectrum β-lactamase CTX-M and the quinolone resistance gene qnr have direct links to the environmental resistome. In this review, we highlight recent advances in our understanding of horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from the environment to the clinic. Improvements in sequencing technologies coupled with functional metagenomic studies have revealed previously underappreciated diversity in the environmental resistome, and also established novel genetic links to the clinic. Understanding mechanisms of gene exchange becomes vital in controlling the future dissemination of antibiotic resistance.


antibiotic resistance; environmental resistome; evolution; horizontal gene transfer

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