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Researchers at the University of California San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation have identified the mechanism by which a clinically relevant bacterium may gain antibiotic resistance, and have come up with a model for predicting the conditions under which it spreads. The findings, which establish a framework for understanding, quantifying and hopefully combating the emergence of superbugs, were published in a recent paper in eLife.
The spread of antibiotic resistance among pathogenic bacteria is a major public health concern. Among the top three most dangerous are Acinetobacter species, which thrive in hospital settings and acquire antibiotic resistance genes surprisingly quickly.
Threat - Acinetobacter - Ability - Drug - Resistance
"Most of the threat posed by Acinetobacter stems from its ability to acquire drug resistance via horizontal gene transfer (HGT)," said Jeff Hasty, professor of biology and bioengineering at UC San Diego and principal investigator on the paper.
HGT is the process by which bacteria exchange genetic material. Acinetobacter species do this at a remarkably high rate, which makes them particularly good at becoming resistant to antibiotics.
HGT - Acinetobacter - Accident
Until now, HGT has not been directly observed in Acinetobacter species—and it was observed by accident.
When Robert Cooper joined the Hasty lab as a postdoctoral researcher, he was interested in using algae and bacteria to make biofuels.
Side - Project - 'predator - Acinetobacter - Bacteria
"I was looking for a side project and remembered reading about 'predator' Acinetobacter bacteria that engage in hand-to-hand combat to kill their prey," said Cooper. "They do so by extruding something analogous to a poison-tipped dagger, and stabbing neighboring cells."
Intrigued, Cooper acquired some "predator"...
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