Evolution of bacterial pathogenesis

Cell Mol Life Sci. 1999 Nov 30;56(9-10):719-28. doi: 10.1007/s000180050018.


The evolution of bacteria is associated with continuous generation of novel genetic variants. The major driving forces in this process are point mutations, genetic rearrangements, and horizontal gene transfer. A large number of human and animal bacterial pathogens have evolved the capacity to produce virulence factors that are directly involved in infection and disease. Additionally, many bacteria express resistance traits against antibiotics. Both virulence factors and resistance determinants are subject to intrastrain genetic and phenotypic variation. They are often encoded on unstable DNA regions. Thus, they can be readily transferred to bacteria of the same species or even to non-related prokaryotes. This review article focuses on the main mechanisms of bacterial microevolution responsible for the rapid emergence of variants with novel virulence and resistance properties. In addition, processes of macroevolution are described with special emphasis on gene transfer and fixation of adaptive mutations in the genome of pathogens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacteria / virology
  • Bacteriophages / genetics
  • Base Sequence
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Recombination, Genetic / genetics
  • Virulence / genetics


  • DNA, Bacterial