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News

Dental plaque: a breeding ground for antibiotic resistance

Society For General Microbiology : 16 September, 2002  (Company News)
Gene swapping is taking place on your gums as the bacteria in dental plaque trade-up on newer antibiotic resistance genes, according to research at the Society for General Microbiology autumn meeting at Loughborough University.
Gene swapping is taking place on your gums as the bacteria in dental plaque trade-up on newer antibiotic resistance genes, according to research at the Society for General Microbiology autumn meeting at Loughborough University.

'We have found that many antibiotic resistance genes in oral bacteria are found on short, mobile pieces of DNA called transposons. Transposons can be transferred between both closely and distantly related bacteria in the mouth,' says Dr Peter Mullany, of the Eastman Dental Institute, London.

Bacteria in the mouth and the gut have identical antibiotic resistance genes. This suggests that genes can swap between different species and different genera. In order to test this idea Dr Mullany's group produced artificial dental plaque in the laboratory using bacteria from a sample of human saliva.

'We added a donor bacterium, Streptococcus salivarius, to the plaque, which contained a transposon with a gene for tetracycline resistance. After a while other streptococcal species in the plaque became resistant to tetracycline. We also found that when a soil bacterium was used as a donor it could pass on its transposon, even though it couldn't grow in plaque,' says Dr Mullany.

Dr Mullany concludes, 'In the long term, by understanding how antibiotic resistance genes are transferred, we can work out how to stop or slow down gene transfer. This may prolong the useful lifetime of antibiotics.'
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