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J Bacteriol. 2010 Nov;192(22):6045-55. doi: 10.1128/JB.00277-10. Epub 2010 Sep 17.

Predicting plasmid promiscuity based on genomic signature.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-3051, USA.


Despite the important contribution of self-transmissible plasmids to bacterial evolution, little is understood about the range of hosts in which these plasmids have evolved. Our goal was to infer this so-called evolutionary host range. The nucleotide composition, or genomic signature, of plasmids is often similar to that of the chromosome of their current host, suggesting that plasmids acquire their hosts' signature over time. Therefore, we examined whether the evolutionary host range of plasmids could be inferred by comparing their trinucleotide composition to that of all completely sequenced bacterial chromosomes. The diversity of candidate hosts was determined using taxonomic classification and genetic distance. The method was first tested using plasmids from six incompatibility (Inc) groups whose host ranges are generally thought to be narrow (IncF, IncH, and IncI) or broad (IncN, IncP, and IncW) and then applied to other plasmid groups. The evolutionary host range was found to be broad for IncP plasmids, narrow for IncF and IncI plasmids, and intermediate for IncH and IncN plasmids, which corresponds with their known host range. The IncW plasmids as well as several plasmids from the IncA/C, IncP, IncQ, IncU, and PromA groups have signatures that were not similar to any of the chromosomal signatures, raising the hypothesis that these plasmids have not been ameliorated in any host due to their promiscuous nature. The inferred evolutionary host range of IncA/C, IncP-9, and IncL/M plasmids requires further investigation. In this era of high-throughput sequencing, this genomic signature method is a useful tool for predicting the host range of novel mobile elements.

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