"We expected to find resistance genes," said lead author, Pierre-Edouard Fournier, researcher at the Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). "But the grouping of most of these genes within a single genomic island was totally unexpected." The resistance island--a group of resistance genes clustered close together on a chromosome--is the largest discovered to date.
The research team also discovered new resistance genes. "We were surprised to discover 19 new resistance genes that escaped the scrutiny of the large number of laboratories already working on multi-drug resistant A. baumannii throughout the world. This is a demonstration of the efficiency of the whole genome approach in characterizing new pathogens," said Jean-Michel Claverie, senior author of the report and Director of the Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory at CNRS.
This bacterium acquires resistance genes quickly--just thirty years ago it was completely susceptible to antibiotics and now it is resistant to a wide-range of antibiotics.
"A. baumannii is exceptionally prone to pick up foreign DNA from other bacteria," Claverie said. The study traced the origin of many resistance genes to other bacteria, including Salmonella, indicating frequent genetic swapping between bacteria.
Resistance genes are usually located on small auxiliary circles of DNA called plasmids that can be exchanged with other individuals. But in A. baumannii, resistance genes were incorporated into the main chromosome, not the plasmids, according to the study.