The Origins of Antibiotic Resistance
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Antibiotics remain one of our most important pharmacological tools for the control of infectious disease. However, unlike most other drugs, the use of antibiotics selects for resistant organisms and erodes their clinical utility. Resistance can emerge within populations of bacteria by mutation and be retained by subsequent selection or by the acquisition of resistance elements laterally from other organisms. The source of these resistance genes is only now being understood. The evidence supports a large bacterial resistome-the collection of all resistance genes and their precursors in both pathogenic and nonpathogenic bacteria. These genes have arisen by various means including self-protection in the case of antibiotic producers, transport of small molecules for various reasons including nutrition and detoxification of noxious chemicals, and to accomplish other goals, such as metabolism, and demonstrate serendipitous selectivity for antibiotics. Regardless of their origins, resistance genes can rapidly move through bacterial populations and emerge in pathogenic bacteria. Understanding the processes that contribute to the evolution and selection of resistance is essential to mange current stocks of antibiotics and develop new ones.
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