Public health evolutionary biology of antimicrobial resistance: priorities for intervention

Evol Appl. 2015 Mar;8(3):223-39. doi: 10.1111/eva.12235. Epub 2014 Dec 11.


The three main processes shaping the evolutionary ecology of antibiotic resistance (AbR) involve the emergence, invasion and occupation by antibiotic-resistant genes of significant environments for human health. The process of emergence in complex bacterial populations is a high-frequency, continuous swarming of ephemeral combinatory genetic and epigenetic explorations inside cells and among cells, populations and communities, expanding in different environments (migration), creating the stochastic variation required for evolutionary progress. Invasion refers to the process by which AbR significantly increases in frequency in a given (invaded) environment, led by external invaders local multiplication and spread, or by endogenous conversion. Conversion occurs because of the spread of AbR genes from an exogenous resistant clone into an established (endogenous) bacterial clone(s) colonizing the environment; and/or because of dissemination of particular resistant genetic variants that emerged within an endogenous clonal population. Occupation of a given environment by a resistant variant means a permanent establishment of this organism in this environment, even in the absence of antibiotic selection. Specific interventions on emergence influence invasion, those acting on invasion also influence occupation and interventions on occupation determine emergence. Such interventions should be simultaneously applied, as they are not simple solutions to the complex problem of AbR.

Keywords: antibiotic resistance; complex causes; complex interventions; emergence of antibiotic resistance; invasion by antibiotic resistance; occupation by antibiotic resistance; public health evolutionary biology.