Chapter 1 : Part I Overview

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Over the last few decades, the study of microbial pathogens focused on pragmatic topics such as vaccine development and the identification of virulence factors and their molecular effects on the host. This work leaves a legacy that is a storehouse of knowledge on many important pathogens, as well as a template for studying newly identified pathogens. Israel et al. isolated isolates that arose in one individual six years after the original sequenced isolate J99 was isolated from that person. The study demonstrated considerable genetic diversity among the newer isolates compared with the reference isolate, showing that ''microevolution,'' occurs continuously in the specialized niche in which is found. Genes may be activated or silenced by random changes that occur in runs of repetitive nucleotides, through the process of slipped-strand mispairing during DNA replication. The population dynamics and structures of disease-causing microbes are of more than simply academic interest, as Maiden and Urwin point out, because a full understanding of them is essential for developing effective vaccine strategies. Much of evolution takes place by mutation and selection, which are relatively slow processes, but rapid acquisition of virulence traits has occurred with the introduction of pathogenicity islands in many species. Microarray analysis confirms earlier data that the seventh-pandemic El Tor O1 strains and the emergent O139 strains are virtually the same clone albeit with different lipopolysaccharide gene clusters. Evolutionary studies of microbial pathogens will continue to reveal numerous surprises.

Citation: Mekalanos J. 2006. Part I Overview, p 3-9. In Seifert H, DiRita V (ed), Evolution of Microbial Pathogens. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555815622.ch1
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