A plasmid is defined as a double stranded, circular DNA molecule capable of autonomous replication. By definition, plasmids do not carry genes essential for the growth of host cells under non-stressed conditions but they have systems which guarantee their autonomous replication also controlling the copy number and ensuring stable inheritance during cell division. Most of the plasmids confer positively selectable phenotypes by the presence of antimicrobial resistance genes. Plasmids evolve as an integral part of the bacterial genome, providing resistance genes that can be easily exchanged among bacteria of different origin and source by conjugation. A multidisciplinary approach is currently applied to study the acquisition and spread of antimicrobial resistance in clinically relevant bacterial pathogens and the established surveillance can be implemented by replicon typing of plasmids. Particular plasmid families are more frequently detected among Enterobacteriaceae and play a major role in the diffusion of specific resistance genes. For instance, IncFII, IncA/C, IncL/M, IncN and IncI1 plasmids carrying extended-spectrum beta-lactamase genes and acquired AmpC genes are currently considered to be "epidemic resistance plasmids", being worldwide detected in Enterobacteriaceae of different origin and sources. The recognition of successful plasmids is an essential first step to design intervention strategies preventing their spread.
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