Estimating the fitness cost and benefit of antimicrobial resistance from pathogen genomic data

J R Soc Interface. 2023 Jun;20(203):20230074. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2023.0074. Epub 2023 Jun 14.


Increasing levels of antibiotic resistance in many bacterial pathogen populations are a major threat to public health. Resistance to an antibiotic provides a fitness benefit when the bacteria are exposed to this antibiotic, but resistance also often comes at a cost to the resistant pathogen relative to susceptible counterparts. We lack a good understanding of these benefits and costs of resistance for many bacterial pathogens and antibiotics, but estimating them could lead to better use of antibiotics in a way that reduces or prevents the spread of resistance. Here, we propose a new model for the joint epidemiology of susceptible and resistant variants, which includes explicit parameters for the cost and benefit of resistance. We show how Bayesian inference can be performed under this model using phylogenetic data from susceptible and resistant lineages and that by combining data from both we are able to disentangle and estimate the resistance cost and benefit parameters separately. We applied our inferential methodology to several simulated datasets to demonstrate good scalability and accuracy. We analysed a dataset of Neisseria gonorrhoeae genomes collected between 2000 and 2013 in the USA. We found that two unrelated lineages resistant to fluoroquinolones shared similar epidemic dynamics and resistance parameters. Fluoroquinolones were abandoned for the treatment of gonorrhoea due to increasing levels of resistance, but our results suggest that they could be used to treat a minority of around 10% of cases without causing resistance to grow again.

Keywords: antimicrobial resistance; genomic epidemiology; phylodynamics; resistance fitness cost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial* / genetics
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Genomics
  • Phylogeny


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Fluoroquinolones

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.6673522