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Bioeng Bugs. 2012 Jan 1;3(1):13-31. doi: 10.4161/bbug.3.1.17883. Epub 2012 Jan 1.

Evolutionary, ecological and biotechnological perspectives on plasmids resident in the human gut mobile metagenome.

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Centre for Biomedical and Health Science Research, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK.


Numerous mobile genetic elements (MGE) are associated with the human gut microbiota and collectively referred to as the gut mobile metagenome. The role of this flexible gene pool in development and functioning of the gut microbial community remains largely unexplored, yet recent evidence suggests that at least some MGE comprising this fraction of the gut microbiome reflect the co-evolution of host and microbe in the gastro-intestinal tract. In conjunction, the high level of novel gene content typical of MGE coupled with their predicted high diversity, suggests that the mobile metagenome constitutes an immense and largely unexplored gene-space likely to encode many novel activities with potential biotechnological or pharmaceutical value, as well as being important to the development and functioning of the gut microbiota. Of the various types of MGE that comprise the gut mobile metagenome, plasmids are of particular importance since these elements are often capable of autonomous transfer between disparate bacterial species, and are known to encode accessory functions that increase bacterial fitness in a given environment facilitating bacterial adaptation. In this article current knowledge regarding plasmids resident in the human gut mobile metagenome is reviewed, and available strategies to access and characterize this portion of the gut microbiome are described. The relative merits of these methods and their present as well as prospective impact on our understanding of the human gut microbiota is discussed.

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