Mobile genetic elements of the human gastrointestinal tract: potential for spread of antibiotic resistance genes

Gut Microbes. Jul-Aug 2013;4(4):271-80. doi: 10.4161/gmic.24627. Epub 2013 Apr 12.


The human intestine is an important location for horizontal gene transfer (HGT) due to the presence of a densely populated community of microorganisms which are essential to the health of the human superorganism. HGT in this niche has the potential to influence the evolution of members of this microbial community and to mediate the spread of antibiotic resistance genes from commensal organisms to potential pathogens. Recent culture-independent techniques and metagenomic studies have provided an insight into the distribution of mobile genetic elements (MGEs) and the extent of HGT in the human gastrointestinal tract. In this mini-review, we explore the current knowledge of mobile genetic elements in the gastrointestinal tract, the progress of research into the distribution of antibiotic resistance genes in the gut and the potential role of MGEs in the spread of antibiotic resistance. In the face of reduced treatment options for many clinical infections, understanding environmental and commensal antibiotic resistance and spread is critical to the future development of meaningful and long lasting anti-microbial therapies.

Keywords: antibiotics resistance; gene transfer; gut; microbiome; mobile genetic elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Gene Transfer, Horizontal
  • Humans
  • Interspersed Repetitive Sequences*
  • Microbiota*