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R-factor is an old name for a plasmid that codes for antibiotic resistance. Often, R-factors code for more than one antibiotic resistance factor: genes that encode resistance to unrelated antibiotics may be carried on a single R-factor, sometimes up to 8 different resistances. Many R-factors can pass from one bacterium to another through bacterial conjugation and are a common means by which antibiotic resistance spreads between bacterial species, genera and even families. For example RP1, a plasmid that encodes resistance to ampicillin, tetracycline and kanamycin originated in a species of Pseudomonas, from the Family Pseudomonadaceae, but can also be maintained in bacteria belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae, such as Escherichia coli.
Bacteria containing F-factors (said to be "F+") have the capability for horizontal gene transfer; they can construct a sex pilus, which emerges from the donor bacterium and ensnares the recipient bacterium, draws it in, and eventually triggers the formation of a mating bridge, merging the cytoplasms of two bacteria via a controlled pore. This pore allows the transfer of genetic material, such as a plasmid. Conjugation allows two bacteria, not necessarily from the same species, to transfer genetic material one way. Since many R-factors contain F-plasmids, antibiotic resistance can be easily spread among a population of bacteria. Also, R-factors can be taken up by "DNA pumps" in their membranes via transformation, or less commonly through viral mediated transduction, although conjugation is the most common means of antibiotic resistance spread.
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