The enterococci are an ancient genus that evolved along with the tree of life. These intrinsically rugged bacteria are highly adapted members of the intestinal consortia of a range of hosts that spans the animal kingdom. Enterococci are also leading opportunistic hospital pathogens, causing infections that are often resistant to treatment with most antibiotics. Despite the importance of enterococci as hospital pathogens, the vast majority live outside of humans, and nearly all of their evolutionary history took place before the appearance of modern humans. Because hospital infections represent evolutionary end points, traits that exacerbate human infection are unlikely to have evolved for that purpose. However, clusters of traits have converged in specific lineages that are well adapted to colonize the antibiotic-perturbed gastrointestinal tracts of patients and that thrive in the hospital environment. Here we discuss these traits in an evolutionary context, as well as how comparative genomics is providing new insights into the evolution of the enterococci.
Keywords: Enterococcus; genomics; human-associated microbial flora.