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Antibiotic Resistance: An Ecological Perspective on an Old Problem

Antibiotic resistance, the acquired ability of a pathogen to withstand an antibiotic that kills off its sensitive counterparts, originally arises from random mutations in existing genes or from intact genes that already serve a similar purpose.  Exposure to antibiotics and other antimicrobial products, whether in the human body, in animals, or the environment, applies selective pressure that encourages resistance to emerge favoring both “naturally resistant” strains and strains which have “acquired resistance.”  Horizontal gene transfer, in which genetic information is passed between microbes, allows resistance determinants to spread within harmless environmental or commensal microorganisms and pathogens, thus creating a reservoir of resistance.  Resistance is also spread by the replication of microbes that carry resistance genes, a process that produces genetically identical (or clonal) progeny.  This report is from the American Academy of Microbiology.