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Front Microbiol. 2013 Nov 20;4:347. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00347. eCollection 2013.

In silico analysis of bacterial arsenic islands reveals remarkable synteny and functional relatedness between arsenate and phosphate.

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State Key Laboratory of Agricultural Microbiology, College of Life Sciences and Technology, Huazhong Agricultural University Wuhan, P. R. of China.


In order to construct a more universal model for understanding the genetic requirements for bacterial AsIII oxidation, an in silico examination of the available sequences in the GenBank was assessed and revealed 21 conserved 5-71 kb arsenic islands within phylogenetically diverse bacterial genomes. The arsenic islands included the AsIII oxidase structural genes aioBA, ars operons (e.g., arsRCB) which code for arsenic resistance, and pho, pst, and phn genes known to be part of the classical phosphate stress response and that encode functions associated with regulating and acquiring organic and inorganic phosphorus. The regulatory genes aioXSR were also an island component, but only in Proteobacteria and orientated differently depending on whether they were in α-Proteobacteria or β-/γ-Proteobacteria. Curiously though, while these regulatory genes have been shown to be essential to AsIII oxidation in the Proteobacteria, they are absent in most other organisms examined, inferring different regulatory mechanism(s) yet to be discovered. Phylogenetic analysis of the aio, ars, pst, and phn genes revealed evidence of both vertical inheritance and horizontal gene transfer (HGT). It is therefore likely the arsenic islands did not evolve as a whole unit but formed independently by acquisition of functionally related genes and operons in respective strains. Considering gene synteny and structural analogies between arsenate and phosphate, we presumed that these genes function together in helping these microbes to be able to use even low concentrations of phosphorus needed for vital functions under high concentrations of arsenic, and defined these sequences as the arsenic islands.


AioBA; arsenic islands; arsenite oxidase; phosphorus; synteny

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