The cost of antibiotic resistance--from the perspective of a bacterium

Ciba Found Symp. 1997;207:131-40; discussion 141-51. doi: 10.1002/9780470515358.ch9.


The possession of an antibiotic resistance gene clearly benefits a bacterium when the corresponding antibiotic is present. But does the resistant bacterium suffer a cost of resistance (i.e. a reduction in fitness) when the antibiotic is absent? If so, then one strategy to control the spread of resistance would be to suspend the use of a particular antibiotic until resistant genotypes declined to low frequency. Numerous studies have indeed shown that resistant genotypes are less fit than their sensitive counterparts in the absence of antibiotic, indicating a cost of resistance. But there is an important caveat: these studies have put antibiotic resistance genes into naïve bacteria, which have no evolutionary history of association with the resistance genes. An important question, therefore, is whether bacteria can overcome the cost of resistance by evolving adaptations that counteract the harmful side-effects of resistance genes. In fact, several experiments have shown that the cost of antibiotic resistance may be substantially diminished, even eliminated, by evolutionary changes in bacteria over rather short periods of time. As a consequence of this adaptation of bacteria to their resistance genes, it becomes increasingly difficult to eliminate resistant genotypes simply by suspending the use of antibiotics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / drug effects
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Gene Frequency