New Understanding of How Antimicrobial Resistance Spreads Through Bacterial Populations - European Medical Journal

New Understanding of How Antimicrobial Resistance Spreads Through Bacterial Populations

DYNAMICS of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) transfer between bacterial populations, and the ways in which this affects the emergence and spread of disease have been demonstrated by researchers from the University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK. The study provides vital information that could lead to the development of new strategies to combat the global AMR crisis.

Horizontal Gene Transfer

While the process of horizontal gene transfer is known to play a role in the growth of the AMR crisis, the exact relationship continues to be researched. In this study, the team analysed cases in three epidemics of the Shigella diarrhoeal pathogen in England between 2008 and 2014 by combining epidemiological information with whole genome sequencing analysis of bacteria in each of the cases.

Facilitation of New Epidemics

They found the English epidemics of Shigella were linked to resistance to the antibiotic azithromycin, also observing that azithromycin resistance genes were carried on the same plasmid as many of the co-circulating Shigella strains. The team then demonstrated that new epidemics were being facilitated by the transfer of the plasmid through their combination analysis of epidemiological data and genomic information about the different strains of the bacterium.

Dr Kate Baker, University of Nottingham, commented: “Through this study we’ve been able to show that horizontal gene transfer can rapidly facilitate new epidemics of important pathogens. This means that in all areas of AMR research, public health management, and surveillance, we need to be analysing our pathogen genomes in great detail to understand the epidemiology of AMR.”

Enhanced Understanding

The findings could provide the basis for increased knowledge of how bacteria swap genetic material with one another, ultimately leading to new ways of combating AMR. New ways of overcoming the growing prevalence of AMR are urgently needed, with 10 million deaths attributed to the global crisis expected to occur by the year 2050 according to current estimates.1


James Coker, Reporter

For the source and further information about the study, click here.


  1. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance Chaired by Jim O’Neill. Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations. December 2014. Available at:

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