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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2009 Aug;75(15):4936-49. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02564-08. Epub 2009 Jun 5.

USER friendly cloning coupled with chitin-based natural transformation enables rapid mutagenesis of Vibrio vulnificus.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, 32610-0266, USA.


Vibrio vulnificus is a bacterial contaminant of shellfish and causes highly lethal sepsis and destructive wound infections. A definitive identification of virulence factors using the molecular version of Koch's postulates has been hindered because of difficulties in performing molecular genetic analysis of this opportunistic pathogen. For example, conjugation is required to introduce plasmid DNA, and allelic exchange suicide vectors that rely on sucrose sensitivity for counterselection are not efficient. We therefore incorporated USER friendly cloning techniques into pCVD442-based allelic exchange suicide vectors and other expression vectors to enable the rapid and efficient capture of PCR amplicons. Upstream and downstream DNA sequences flanking genes targeted for deletion were cloned together in a single step. Based on results from Vibrio cholerae, we determined that V. vulnificus becomes naturally transformable with linear DNA during growth on chitin in the form of crab shells. By combining USER friendly cloning and chitin-based transformation, we rapidly and efficiently produced targeted deletions in V. vulnificus, bypassing the need for two-step, suicide vector-mediated allelic exchange. These methods were used to examine the roles of two flagellin loci (flaCDE and flaFBA), the motAB genes, and the cheY-3 gene in motility and to create deletions of rtxC, rtxA1, and fadR. Additionally, chitin-based transformation was useful in moving antibiotic resistance-labeled mutations between V. vulnificus strains by simply coculturing the strains on crab shells. The methods and genetic tools that we developed should be of general use to those performing molecular genetic analysis and manipulation of other gram-negative bacteria.

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