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You are here: Home / Teams / Charpentier X - Horigene / Horizontal gene transfer in bacterial pathogens

Horizontal gene transfer in bacterial pathogens

Understanding the mechanisms of gene transfer to fight the rise of antibiotic resistance

Scientists have long pursued the idea of genetically modifying the genome of individuals or of their cells. Modifying the genome of eukaryotes could help fighting diseases, by fixing defect or confering novel resistance properties (like crops resistant to fungal infections).
While this is not naturally available in eukaryotic cells, bacteria have used the ability to alter their genomes for millions (if not billion) of years.
Several processes allow bacteria to transfer their genes between individuals of the same species, or even between individuals of different species. This is called horizontal gene transfer (HGT).
HGT is fundamental to the evolution of bacteria but can have devastating consequences, leading to the emergence of pathogens as well as their resistance to antibiotics.
The globally increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is a major concern which threatens our ability to treat common infectious diseases.
Our team studies HGT mechanisms in bacteria, to achieve a fundamental understanding of the processes and their impact on the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.
Our work was initially focused on the study of the pathogen Legionella pneumophila. This bacterium is responsible for an acute pneumonia called legionellosis. However, we are now investing important resources to study a top priority by WHO, Acinetobacter baumannii. Half of our workforce is now dedicated to research on A. baumannii.
In both pathogens, we study natural transformation, a mechanism of HGT inherent to the species and fully controlled by the bacteria. It occurs when bacteria enter a transient physiological state called competence. In the competence state, expression of a DNA uptake system confers bacteria the ability to take up free DNA and integrate it in their genome resulting in genetic and phenotypic transformation.
Our work is now oriented towards an integrated vision of all THG mechanisms, taking into account HGT mechanisms and mobile genetic elements which interact with natural transformation.

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