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PLoS Genet. 2009 Dec;5(12):e1000775. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000775. Epub 2009 Dec 18.

Mobile antibiotic resistance encoding elements promote their own diversity.

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Centre d'Etude et de Valorisation de la Diversité Microbienne (CEVDM), Département de biologie, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.


Integrating conjugative elements (ICEs) are a class of bacterial mobile genetic elements that disseminate via conjugation and then integrate into the host cell genome. The SXT/R391 family of ICEs consists of more than 30 different elements that all share the same integration site in the host chromosome but often encode distinct properties. These elements contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance genes in several gram-negative bacteria including Vibrio cholerae, the agent of cholera. Here, using comparative analyses of the genomes of several SXT/R391 ICEs, we found evidence that the genomes of these elements have been shaped by inter-ICE recombination. We developed a high throughput semi-quantitative method to explore the genetic determinants involved in hybrid ICE formation. Recombinant ICE formation proved to be relatively frequent, and to depend on host (recA) and ICE (s065 and s066) loci, which can independently and potentially cooperatively mediate hybrid ICE formation. s065 and s066, which are found in all SXT/R391 ICEs, are orthologues of the bacteriophage lambda Red recombination genes bet and exo, and the s065/s066 recombination system is the first Red-like recombination pathway to be described in a conjugative element. Neither ICE excision nor conjugative transfer proved to be essential for generation of hybrid ICEs. Instead conjugation facilitates the segregation of hybrids and could provide a means to select for functional recombinant ICEs containing novel combinations of genes conferring resistance to antibiotics. Thus, ICEs promote their own diversity and can yield novel mobile elements capable of disseminating new combinations of antibiotic resistance genes.

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