Biology letters

Enhancement of bacterial competitive fitness by apramycin resistance plasmids from non-pathogenic Escherichia coli.

PMID 17148431


The study of antibiotic resistance has in the past focused on organisms that are pathogenic to humans or animals. However, the development of resistance in commensal organisms is of concern because of possible transfer of resistance genes to zoonotic pathogens. Conjugative plasmids are genetic elements capable of such transfer and are traditionally thought to engender a fitness burden on host bacteria. In this study, conjugative apramycin resistance plasmids isolated from newborn calves were characterized. Calves were raised on a farm that had not used apramycin or related aminoglycoside antibiotics for at least 20 months prior to sampling. Of three apramycin resistance plasmids, one was capable of transfer at very high rates and two were found to confer fitness advantages on new Escherichia coli hosts. This is the first identification of natural plasmids isolated from commensal organisms that are able to confer a fitness advantage on a new host. This work indicates that reservoirs of antibiotic resistance genes in commensal organisms might not decrease if antibiotic usage is halted.

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Apramycin sulfate salt
C21H41N5O11 · xH2SO4