Genome of emerging antibiotic resistant bacteria decoded

Largest collection of Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria genetically sequenced

A collaborative research project undertaken by the University of Melbourne, the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Viet Nam (OUCRU) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has led to the analysis of the largest genetically decoded collection of the bacterial pathogen Klebsiella pneumoniae, which causes a spectrum of diseases in humans and animals. This analysis has revealed the impact of antibiotic treatment on its population structure and provides the tools needed to track this important pathogen.

Researchers found that the distribution of genes responsible for conferring drug resistance varied according to the geographical origin of the sample, not according to the specific strain of K. pneumoniae. This shows that evolution of the pathogen is directly linked to local antibiotic use and that these resistance elements regularly transfer between different strains.

Most drug resistance genes were discovered in samples from patients with infections they acquired while receiving treatment for another illness in hospital, or from people who carried the bacteria without showing any symptoms of infection. These strains are generally less infectious and unlikely to affect a healthy individual. However, researchers are concerned, given the ease with which different strains of the bacteria can share genetic information, that antibiotic resistance genes may soon appear in more virulent Klebsiella strains, creating an untreatable and highly infectious bacterial population.

In Asia, K. pneumoniae infections are becoming increasingly common and increasingly associated with mortality, says Stephen Baker, from the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit. If the trends we are seeing here in Vietnam and across Asia continue, drug-resistant Klebsiella will become an even more predominant and an exceptionally dangerous pathogen.