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Summary

The analysis of the genomes of bacterial pathogens indicates that they have acquired their pathogenic capability by incorporating different genetic elements through horizontal gene transfer. The ancestors of virulent bacteria, as well as the origin of virulence determinants, lay most likely in the environmental microbiota. Studying the role that these determinants may have in non-clinical ecosystems is thus of value for understanding in detail the evolution and the ecology of bacterial pathogens. In this article, I propose that classical virulence determinants might be relevant for basic metabolic processes (for instance iron-uptake systems) or in modulating prey/predator relationships (toxins) in natural, non-infective ecosystems. The different role that horizontal gene transfer and mutation may have in the evolution of bacterial pathogens either for their speciation or in short-sighted evolution processes is also discussed.