Are pathogenic bacteria just looking for food? Metabolism and microbial pathogenesis

Trends Microbiol. 2011 Jul;19(7):341-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2011.04.003. Epub 2011 May 18.


It is interesting to speculate that the evolutionary drive for microbes to develop pathogenic characteristics was to access the nutrient resources that animals provided. Animal environments that pathogens colonize have likely driven the evolution of new bacterial characteristics to maximize these new nutritional opportunities. This review focuses on genomic and functional aspects of pathogen metabolism that allow efficient utilization of nutrient resources provided by animals. Similar to genes encoding specific virulence traits, genes encoding metabolic functions have been horizontally acquired by pathogens to provide a selective advantage in host tissues. Selective advantage in host tissues can also be gained by loss of function mutations that alter metabolic capabilities. Greater understanding of bacterial metabolism within host tissues should be important for increased understanding of host-pathogen interactions and the development of future therapeutic strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity
  • Biological Evolution
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Metabolomics*
  • Multigene Family
  • Mutation
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid / metabolism
  • Urease / metabolism
  • Virulence Factors / genetics
  • Virulence Factors / metabolism


  • Virulence Factors
  • Urease
  • N-Acetylneuraminic Acid