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APMIS Suppl. 1998;84:37-42.

The potential of integrons and connected programmed rearrangements for mediating horizontal gene transfer.

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  • 1Pharmaceutical Biosciences, Microbiology Division, Uppsala, Sweden.


Site-specific recombination of integrons, mediates transfer of single genes in small genomes and plasmids. Recent data suggest that new genes are recruited to the cassettes--the units moved by integrons. Integrons are resident in a class of transposons with pronounced target selectivity for resolution loci in broad host range plasmids. A resulting network of programmed transfer routes, with potential offshoots reaching into eukaryotic cells, may channel genes to unexpectedly remote organisms. It has previously been observed that the conjugation apparatus of the broad host range plasmid R751 (IncP) which contains transposon Tn5090 harbouring an integron, promotes horizontal genetic transfer between bacteria and yeast. Furthermore, it is well known and fundamental for widely used gene replacement technologies, that site-specific recombination systems (e.g. Cre-lox of bacteriophage P1) related to the integrons are functional in higher eukaryotes. It seems very clear that integrons and associated programmed transfer mechanisms have high significance for the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes in bacteria whereas further studies are needed to assess their importance for spreading of arbitrary genes in a wider range of host systems.

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