Agricultural use of Burkholderia (Pseudomonas) cepacia: A threat to human health?

  • Holmes A
  • Govan J
  • Goldstein R
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In the past 2 decades, Burkholderia cepacia has emerged as a human pathogen causing numerous outbreaks, particularly among cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. One highly transmissible strain has spread across North America and Britain, and another between hospitalized CF and non-CF patients. Meanwhile, the organism has been developed as a biopesticide for protecting crops against fungal diseases and has potential as a bioremediation agent for breaking down recalcitrant herbicides and pesticides. However, B. cepacia is inherently resistant to multiple antibiotics; selection of strains "safe" for environmental application is not at present possible phenotypically or genotypically; molecular epidemiology and phylogenetic studies demonstrate that highly transmissible strains emerge randomly; and the organism has a capacity for rapid mutation and adaptation (facilitated by numerous insertion sequences), and a large, complex genome divided into separate chromosomes. Therefore, the widespread agricultural use of B. cepacia should be approached with caution.

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  • Alison Holmes

  • John Govan

  • Richard Goldstein

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