An A.I. primer on TEM-1 β-lactamase

For any readers like me who are not entirely up-to-speed on TEM-1 β-lactamase and related terms, here is what I got when I posted this request to the Google’s Gemini Advanced A.I. chat:

Explain to me this sentence so that I can better understand the terminology: “TEM-1 β-lactamase is a class A enzyme and is the most common plasmid-encoded β-lactamase in Gram-negative bacteria”

Absolutely! Let’s break down this sentence piece by piece:

TEM-1 β-lactamase:

  • β-lactamase: This is a type of enzyme (a protein that helps chemical reactions happen) that breaks down certain antibiotics called beta-lactams. Beta-lactams are a broad class of antibiotics, including common ones like penicillin and cephalosporins.
  • TEM-1: This is the specific name for one type of β-lactamase. It’s one of the most well-known and widespread enzymes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Class A enzyme:

  • This refers to a specific group of enzymes with similar characteristics. There are several different classes of β-lactamases, and knowing the class helps scientists understand how the enzyme works and how to potentially combat its effects.


  • Plasmid: This is a small, circular piece of DNA that exists separately from the main DNA of a bacterium. Plasmids can contain genes that give bacteria special abilities, like antibiotic resistance.
  • Plasmid-encoded: This means that the instructions (genes) for making the TEM-1 β-lactamase enzyme are found on a plasmid, not the bacterium’s main DNA. This is important because plasmids can be easily transferred between bacteria, making antibiotic resistance spread quickly.

Gram-negative bacteria:

  • This refers to a broad category of bacteria with a specific type of cell wall. Many common disease-causing bacteria are Gram-negative, such as E. coli and Salmonella.

Putting it all together:

The sentence means that TEM-1 β-lactamase is a specific type of enzyme that breaks down beta-lactam antibiotics. It’s one of the most common ways that Gram-negative bacteria become resistant to these antibiotics, and the genes that create this enzyme are often found on plasmids that can easily move between different bacteria.

I was impressed with the “level of explanation” it chose. In my opinion, it was not too technical and not too simplistic. For a reader with reasonable scientific literacy, it provides helpful reminders of terms that we probably learned at some time in the past but which have faded from our working memory.

I’m finding myself using Gemini Advanced on a daily basis. It often saves me time, especially when it leads me to particular articles/papers and helps me think through my grasp of various topics. And when students ask me theology, Ancient Near Eastern Studies or western civilization history questions, I’ve started having them try an A.I. engine first.

As a computer science professor in the 1980’s, I always assigned my undergrads a session with ELIZA, one of the first chatbots (but known as “chatterbots” back then) as an introduction to the concept of the Turing Test. Now I feel like a system like Gemini has aced that test. Yes, it makes mistakes, but they seem so similar to the kinds of errors an eager research assistant would make. I will often reply with “Are you sure about XYZ? That seems to disregard ABC.” And the immediate reply is: "Sorry about that. You are absolutely right. I failed to consider XYZ and equivocated the term JKL. Allow me to restate my description as follows . . . . " Responses like that sure seem like a successful Turing Test performance to me.

I’m finding A.I. engines like Gemini to be self-education tools on steroids.


I suppose I should provide a citation for the sentence about TEM-1 β-lactamase that started our comedy tangent:

Structural and Biochemical Evidence That a TEM-1 β-Lactamase N170G Active Site Mutant Acts via Substrate-assisted Catalysis - PMC.

In that entire peer-reviewed paper in the National Institute of Health database there was something about that concise description of TEM-1 β-lactamase that struck me as oddly funny.

And the class-definition is based on phylogeny:

From this paper:


Thanks, @Rumraket. That is a really cool diagram. (Probably deserves its own T-shirt.)

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