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Environ Microbiol. 2015 Nov;17(11):4730-44. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13024. Epub 2015 Sep 16.

Mobilization of horizontally acquired island 2 is induced in planta in the phytopathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum SCRI1043 and involves the putative relaxase ECA0613 and quorum sensing.

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The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited, Private Bag 4704, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, 9054, New Zealand.
Bioprotection Research Centre, Lincoln University, PO Box 84, Canterbury, 7647, New Zealand.
James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee, DD2 5DA, UK.


Integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs) contribute to the rapid evolution of bacterial pathogens via horizontal gene transfer of virulence determinants. ICEs have common mechanisms for transmission, yet the cues triggering this process under natural environmental or physiological conditions are largely unknown. In this study, mobilization of the putative ICE horizontally acquired island 2 (HAI2), present in the chromosome of the phytopathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum SCRI1043, was examined during infection of the host plant potato. Under these conditions, mobilization of HAI2 increased markedly compared with in vitro cultures. In planta-induced mobilization of HAI2 was regulated by quorum sensing and involved the putative ICE-encoded relaxase ECA0613. Disruption of ECA0613 also reduced transcription of genes involved in production of coronafacic acid (Cfa), the major virulence factor harboured on HAI2, whereas their expression was unaffected in the quorum-sensing (expI) mutant. Thus, suppression of cfa gene expression was not regulated by the mobilization of the ICE per se, but was due directly to inactivation of the relaxase. The identification of genetic factors associated solely with in planta mobilization of an ICE demonstrates that this process is highly adapted to the natural environment of the bacterial host and can influence the expression of virulence determinants.

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