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Bacterial gene especially effective at spreading resistance to superbugs

There's bad news in the fight against the "superbug" methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. A gene that gives the bacteria resistance to important antibiotics can easily spread, according to a study published in a scientific journal last week.

The gene, called cfr, carries a slight to negligible "fitness cost" for the bacteria ---- meaning it won't grow as fast or be quite as healthy ---- compared with bacteria without the gene. That slight disadvantage is outweighed by the benefit the gene provides when antibiotics are present. That means the cfr gene can spread far in bacteria, according to the paper, in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. In the microbial version of sex, bacteria commonly swap genes, even between different species.

The cfr gene is named for its property of conferring resistance to the antibiotics chloramphenicol and florfenicol. The gene also enables bacteria to resist the antibiotic linezolid.

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