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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2004 Feb;28(1):79-100.

A classification scheme for mobilization regions of bacterial plasmids.

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Laboratory of Biochemistry, Sector of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of Ioannina, Dourouti 45110, Ioannina, Greece.


Transmissible plasmids can be classified according to their mobilization ability, as being conjugative (self-transmissible) or mobilizable (transmissible only in the presence of additional conjugative functions). Naturally occurring mobilizable plasmids carry the genetic information necessary for relaxosome formation and processing, but lack the functions required for mating pair formation. Mobilizable plasmids have a tremendous impact in horizontal gene transfer in nature, including the spread of antibiotic resistance. However, analysis of their promiscuity and diversity has attracted less attention than that of conjugative plasmids. This review will focus on the analysis of the diversity of mobilizable plasmids. For this purpose, we primarily compared the amino acid sequences of their relaxases and, when pertinent, we compared these enzymes with conjugative plasmid relaxases. In this way, we established phylogenetic relationships among the members of each superfamily. We conducted a database and literature analysis that led us to propose a classification system for small mobilizable plasmids in families and superfamilies according to their mobilization regions. This review outlines the genetic organization of each family of mobilization regions, as well as the most relevant properties and relationships among their constituent encoded proteins. In this respect, the present review constitutes a first approach to the characterization of the global gene pool of mobilization regions of small mobilizable plasmids.

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