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ISME J. 2010 Dec;4(12):1568-80. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2010.72. Epub 2010 Jun 3.

Shifts in the host range of a promiscuous plasmid through parallel evolution of its replication initiation protein.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, USA.


The ability of bacterial plasmids to adapt to novel hosts and thereby shift their host range is key to their long-term persistence in bacterial communities. Promiscuous plasmids of the incompatibility group P (IncP)-1 can colonize a wide range of hosts, but it is not known if and how they can contract, shift or further expand their host range. To understand the evolutionary mechanisms of host range shifts of IncP-1 plasmids, an IncP-1β mini-replicon was experimentally evolved in four hosts in which it was initially unstable. After 1000 generations in serial batch cultures under antibiotic selection for plasmid maintenance (kanamycin resistance), the stability of the mini-plasmid dramatically improved in all coevolved hosts. However, only plasmids evolved in Shewanella oneidensis showed improved stability in the ancestor, indicating that adaptive mutations had occurred in the plasmid itself. Complete genome sequence analysis of nine independently evolved plasmids showed seven unique plasmid genotypes that had various kinds of single mutations at one locus, namely, the N-terminal region of the replication initiation protein TrfA. Such parallel evolution indicates that this region was under strong selection. In five of the seven evolved plasmids, these trfA mutations resulted in a significantly higher plasmid copy number. Evolved plasmids were found to be stable in four other naive hosts, but could no longer replicate in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This study shows that plasmids can specialize to a novel host through trade-offs between improved stability in the new host and the ability to replicate in a previously permissive host.

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