Evolution and ecology of antibiotic resistance genes


  • Editor: Ian Henderson

Correspondence: Rustam I. Aminov, Rowett Research Institute, Greenburn Road, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK. Tel.: +44 1224 716643; fax: +44 1224 716687; e-mail: r.aminov@rowett.ac.uk


A new perspective on the topic of antibiotic resistance is beginning to emerge based on a broader evolutionary and ecological understanding rather than from the traditional boundaries of clinical research of antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens. Phylogenetic insights into the evolution and diversity of several antibiotic resistance genes suggest that at least some of these genes have a long evolutionary history of diversification that began well before the ‘antibiotic era’. Besides, there is no indication that lateral gene transfer from antibiotic-producing bacteria has played any significant role in shaping the pool of antibiotic resistance genes in clinically relevant and commensal bacteria. Most likely, the primary antibiotic resistance gene pool originated and diversified within the environmental bacterial communities, from which the genes were mobilized and penetrated into taxonomically and ecologically distant bacterial populations, including pathogens. Dissemination and penetration of antibiotic resistance genes from antibiotic producers were less significant and essentially limited to other high G+C bacteria. Besides direct selection by antibiotics, there is a number of other factors that may contribute to dissemination and maintenance of antibiotic resistance genes in bacterial populations.