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January 2, 1991

New Insights Into How Bacteria Develop Antibiotic Resistance

JAMA. 1991;265(1):14. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460010012002

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NEW UNDERSTANDING of how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance has both surprised and alarmed many infectious disease experts.

In the escalating chemical arms race between humans and microbes, pathogens not only are exploiting mutations that help them withstand the widespread use of antibiotics, some have been able to effectively use chunks of genetic material begged, borrowed, or stolen from other organisms, says Alexander Tomasz, PhD, professor of microbiology at Rockefeller University, New York, NY.

Pneumococcal, streptococcal, and staphylcoccal strains with greatly increased resistance to the penicillin family of antibiotics are being detected with increasing frequency among clinical isolates throughout the world, Tomasz says. He spoke at the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing's 28th Annual New Horizons in Science briefing, held at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Tomasz reported data from Hungary that shows an exceptionally high incidence of antibiotic-resistant pneumococci. According to these reports, 50% of all isolates from