Paper Out: The evolution of bacterial pathogens in the Anthropocene

A review paper I wrote just came out in Infection Genetics and Evolution. Inspired by my undergraduate teaching on environment and human health, and an interesting FEMS symposium last year, I chose to explore the relationship between environmental degradation and bacterial evolution. This has been done by others already (most notably by Michael Gillings), but a recent increase in papers on the topic warranted another look. The paper is not open access so feel free to send me an email for a reprint ( From the Abstract:

Humankind has become a primary driver of global environmental and climate change. The extent of planetary change is such that it has been proposed to classify the current geological age as the ‘Anthropocene’. Anthropogenic environmental degradation presents numerous threats to human health and wellbeing, including an increased risk of infectious disease. This review focuses on how processes such as pollution, climate change and human-mediated dispersal could affect the evolution of bacterial pathogens. Effects of environmental change on the ‘big five’ of evolution: mutation rate, recombination (horizontal gene transfer), migration, selection and drift are discussed. Microplastic pollution is used as a case study to highlight the combined effects of some of these processes on the evolutionary diversification of human pathogens. Although the evidence is still incomplete, a picture is emerging that environmental pathogens could evolve at increased rates in the Anthropocene, with potential consequences for human infection.

Planetary history and near future represented on a log-scale axis. The log-scale allows plotting of events in deep geological time, pre-historical time, historical time, the present and the future. Selected key events in evolutionary- and human history are indicated. The Industrial Revolution is here taken as the starting point of the Anthropocene. RCP 8.5 = Representative Concentration Pathway delivering global warming at an average of 8.5 watts per square meter across the planet, resulting in a temperature increase of about 4.3 °C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial time. The logscale representation of planetary history was inspired by jeff smith (

Vos, M., 2020. The evolution of bacterial pathogens in the Anthropocene. Infection, Genetics and Evolution, p.104611.

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