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Bacterial Hanky Panky

You probably never considered the possibility that tiny bacteria have active sex lives. Rest assured they do, at least if you think the exchange of genetic information from one to another to be akin to a sex life.

But why should you care what these microscopic creatures do in the privacy of their own … wherever?

Because the DNA they exchange by a Kama Sutra-like variety of mechanisms can contain genes encoding drug resistance. And if a harmless bug transfers drug resistance to a nasty pathogen, look out, because it just might have abolished your chances of effective therapy.

If things weren’t already grim enough, consider a new report from Harvard Medical School.  Sommer et al. asked how much antibiotic resistance potential lurked in the harmless bacteria that inhabit our bodies, potentially available to be donated to disease-causing critters (Science 325: 5944 [August 28, 2009], 1128–1131). The answer: an “immense diversity of resistance genes in the human microbiome could contribute to the further resistance in human pathogens.”

Even worse, many of these genes code for resistance mechanisms not yet identified. The only silver lining is that medicinal chemists can count on steady gainful employment as they labor to come up with new drugs that replace the ones rendered inactive.

If antimicrobial drug resistance really turns you on (or scares the heck out of you), I’ve written about it before (see posts from July 31, 2008 and April 16, 2009).

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