Acinetobacter baumannii is a species of nonfermentative gram-negative bacteria commonly found in water and soil. This organism was susceptible to most antibiotics in the 1970s. It has now become a major cause of hospital-acquired infections worldwide due to its remarkable propensity to rapidly acquire resistance determinants to a wide range of antibacterial agents. Here we use a comparative genomic approach to identify the complete repertoire of resistance genes exhibited by the multidrug-resistant A. baumannii strain AYE, which is epidemic in France, as well as to investigate the mechanisms of their acquisition by comparison with the fully susceptible A. baumannii strain SDF, which is associated with human body lice. The assembly of the whole shotgun genome sequences of the strains AYE and SDF gave an estimated size of 3.9 and 3.2 Mb, respectively. A. baumannii strain AYE exhibits an 86-kb genomic region termed a resistance island—the largest identified to date—in which 45 resistance genes are clustered. At the homologous location, the SDF strain exhibits a 20 kb-genomic island flanked by transposases but devoid of resistance markers. Such a switching genomic structure might be a hotspot that could explain the rapid acquisition of resistance markers under antimicrobial pressure. Sequence similarity and phylogenetic analyses confirm that most of the resistance genes found in the A. baumannii strain AYE have been recently acquired from bacteria of the genera Pseudomonas, Salmonella, or Escherichia. This study also resulted in the discovery of 19 new putative resistance genes. Whole-genome sequencing appears to be a fast and efficient approach to the exhaustive identification of resistance genes in epidemic infectious agents of clinical significance.
The bacterial species Acinetobacter baumannii is a major cause of hospital-acquired infection throughout the world, and it is an increasing public health concern due to its increasing resistance to antibiotic treatment. Coincidently, a high incidence of multidrug-resistant A. baumannii bloodstream infections was recently reported in US Army service members injured during Afghanistan and Iraq/Kuwait military operations. A. baumannii exhibits a remarkable ability to rapidly develop antibiotic resistance, which led from fully susceptible to multidrug-resistant strains within three decades. The authors used whole-genome sequencing and bioinformatic analyses to identify the complete repertoire of resistance genes exhibited by the multidrug-resistant A. baumannii strain AYE, which is epidemic in France, and to investigate the mechanisms of their acquisition by comparison with the fully susceptible A. baumannii strain SDF, which is associated with human body lice. This study led to the discovery in the AYE genome of an 86-kb region called a resistance “island”—the largest identified to date—that contains a cluster of 45 resistance genes. The homologous location in the susceptible strain, curiously, exhibited a 20-kb genomic island that is devoid of resistance markers. This ability to “switch” its genomic structure probably explains the unmatched speed at which A. baumannii captures resistance markers when under antibacterial pressure, such as is found in hospital intensive care units.