Gene-Swapping Plasmids Aid Antibiotic Resistance in Hospitals
Bacteria appear to be swapping antibiotic-resistance genes through mobile pieces of circular DNA called plasmids, and this exchange may be contributing to the alarming rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals. To understand how these plasmids move between bacterial species in a hospital setting, Karen Frank, Tara Palmore, Julie Segre and colleagues spent two years taking environmental samples and surveillance cultures from over one thousand patients at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. Over this two-year period they identified 10 patients who harbored carbapenem-resistant bacteria. Using a relatively new technology called long-read genome sequencing to decode and compare plasmid genomes, the NIH team discovered that plasmid-carrying bacteria are exchanging antibiotic-resistant genes in the biofilms of sink drains. However, they do not have any evidence of transfer of bacteria from the sink to any of the patients. The authors note that patients who carry the bacteria may not be sick, but can still pass carbapenem-resistant bacteria onto others. The study offers evidence that plasmid transfer in healthcare settings is likely aiding the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
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