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Bacteriophage selection against a plasmid-encoded sex apparatus leads to the loss of antibiotic-resistance plasmids

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Publication details

JournalBiology letters
DateE-pub ahead of print - 11 Nov 2011
DatePublished (current) - 23 Dec 2011
Issue number6
Number of pages4
Pages (from-to)902-905
Early online date11/11/11
Original languageEnglish


Antibiotic-resistance genes are often carried by conjugative plasmids, which spread within and between bacterial species. It has long been recognized that some viruses of bacteria (bacteriophage; phage) have evolved to infect and kill plasmid-harbouring cells. This raises a question: can phages cause the loss of plasmid-associated antibiotic resistance by selecting for plasmid-free bacteria, or can bacteria or plasmids evolve resistance to phages in other ways? Here, we show that multiple antibiotic-resistance genes containing plasmids are stably maintained in both Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica in the absence of phages, while plasmid-dependent phage PRD1 causes a dramatic reduction in the frequency of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The loss of antibiotic resistance in cells initially harbouring RP4 plasmid was shown to result from evolution of phage resistance where bacterial cells expelled their plasmid (and hence the suitable receptor for phages). Phages also selected for a low frequency of plasmid-containing, phage-resistant bacteria, presumably as a result of modification of the plasmid-encoded receptor. However, these double-resistant mutants had a growth cost compared with phage-resistant but antibiotic-susceptible mutants and were unable to conjugate. These results suggest that bacteriophages could play a significant role in restricting the spread of plasmid-encoded antibiotic resistance.

    Research areas

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents, Bacteriophage PRD1, Conjugation, Genetic, Drug Resistance, Bacterial, Escherichia coli K12, Genetic Fitness, Kanamycin, Polymerase Chain Reaction, R Factors, Salmonella typhimurium, Selection, Genetic

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