Are humans increasing bacterial evolvability?

Michael R. Gillings*, H. W. Stokes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

102 Citations (Scopus)


Attempts to control bacterial pathogens have led to an increase in antibiotic-resistant cells and the genetic elements that confer resistance phenotypes. These cells and genes are disseminated simultaneously with the original selective agents via human waste streams. This might lead to a second, unintended consequence of antimicrobial therapy; an increase in the evolvability of all bacterial cells. The genetic variation upon which natural selection acts is a consequence of mutation, recombination and lateral gene transfer (LGT). These processes are under selection, balancing genomic integrity against the advantages accrued by genetic innovation. Saturation of the environment with selective agents might cause directional selection for higher rates of mutation, recombination and LGT, producing unpredictable consequences for humans and the biosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-352
Number of pages7
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

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