Scientists at the University of Washington and the University of Idaho have discovered just how readily MDR bacteria can emerge. In a paper published April 6 in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the researchers report that, for a bacterial pathogen already resistant to an antibiotic, prolonged exposure to that antibiotic not only boosted its ability to retain its resistance gene, but also made the pathogen more readily pick up and maintain resistance to a second antibiotic and become a MDR strain.
The researchers tested a common mechanism for the spread of antibiotic resistance: plasmids. These are circular strands of DNA that can contain many types of genes, including genes for antibiotic resistance. Bacteria easily share plasmids, even across species.
Yet plasmids have their downsides, and past research has shown that bacteria readily shed them.
“Even though they can carry beneficial genes, plasmids can also interfere with many types of processes inside a bacterial cell, such as metabolism or DNA replication,” said lead author Hannah Jordt, a UW research scientist in biology. “So, scientists have generally thought of plasmids as costly and burdensome to the host cell.”