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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Mar;78(6):1708-14. doi: 10.1128/AEM.06759-11. Epub 2012 Jan 13.

Wide variation in antibiotic resistance proteins identified by functional metagenomic screening of a soil DNA library.

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  • 1Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Most genes for antibiotic resistance present in soil microbes remain unexplored because most environmental microbes cannot be cultured. Only recently has the identification of these genes become feasible through the use of culture-independent methods. We screened a soil metagenomic DNA library in an Escherichia coli host for genes that can confer resistance to kanamycin, gentamicin, rifampin, trimethoprim, chloramphenicol, or tetracycline. The screen revealed 41 genes that encode novel protein variants of eight protein families, including aminoglycoside acetyltransferases, rifampin ADP-ribosyltransferases, dihydrofolate reductases, and transporters. Several proteins of the same protein family deviate considerably from each other yet confer comparable resistance. For example, five dihydrofolate reductases sharing at most 44% amino acid sequence identity in pairwise comparisons were equivalent in conferring trimethoprim resistance. We identified variants of aminoglycoside acetyltransferases and transporters that differ in the specificity of the drugs for which they confer resistance. We also found wide variation in protein structure. Two forms of rifampin ADP-ribosyltransferases, one twice the size of the other, were similarly effective at conferring rifampin resistance, although the short form was expressed at a much lower level. Functional metagenomic screening provides insight into the large variability in antibiotic resistance protein sequences, revealing divergent variants that preserve protein function.

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