The need for new antibiotic therapies is acute and growing in large part because of the emergence of drug-resistant pathogens. A vast number of resistance determinants are, however, found in nonpathogenic micro-organisms. The resistance totality in the global microbiota is the antibiotic resistome and includes not only established resistance genes but also genes that have the potential to evolve into resistance elements. We term these proto-resistance genes and hypothesize that they share common ancestry with other functional units known as housekeeping genes. Genomic enzymology is the study of protein structure-function in light of genetic context and evolution of protein superfamilies. This concept is highly applicable to study of antibiotic resistance evolution from proto-resistance elements. In this review, we summarize some of the genomic enzymology evidence for resistance enzymes pointing to common ancestry with genes of other metabolic functions. Genomic enzymology plays a key role in understanding the origins of antibiotic resistance and aids in designing strategies for diagnosis and prevention thereof.
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