Enterococci are Gram-positive bacteria that normally colonize gastrointestinal tracts of humans and animals. They are of growing concern because of their ability to cause antibiotic resistant hospital infections. Antibiotic resistance has been acquired, and has disseminated throughout enterococci, via horizontal transfer of mobile genetic elements. This transmission has been mediated mainly by conjugative plasmids of the pheromone-responsive and broad host range incompatibility group 18 type. Genome sequencing is revealing the extent of diversity of these and other mobile elements in enterococci, as well as the extent of recombination and rearrangement resulting in new phenotypes. Pheromone-responsive plasmids were recently shown to promote genome plasticity in antibiotic resistant Enterococcus faecalis, and their involvement has been implicated in E. faecium as well. Further, incompatibility group 18 plasmids have recently played an important role in mediating transfer of vancomycin resistance from enterococci to methicillin-resistant strains of S. aureus.
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