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ISME J. 2016 Oct;10(10):2498-513. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2016.30. Epub 2016 Mar 8.

Biofilm plasmids with a rhamnose operon are widely distributed determinants of the 'swim-or-stick' lifestyle in roseobacters.

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Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH, Braunschweig, Germany.


Alphaproteobacteria of the metabolically versatile Roseobacter group (Rhodobacteraceae) are abundant in marine ecosystems and represent dominant primary colonizers of submerged surfaces. Motility and attachment are the prerequisite for the characteristic 'swim-or-stick' lifestyle of many representatives such as Phaeobacter inhibens DSM 17395. It has recently been shown that plasmid curing of its 65-kb RepA-I-type replicon with >20 genes for exopolysaccharide biosynthesis including a rhamnose operon results in nearly complete loss of motility and biofilm formation. The current study is based on the assumption that homologous biofilm plasmids are widely distributed. We analyzed 33 roseobacters that represent the phylogenetic diversity of this lineage and documented attachment as well as swimming motility for 60% of the strains. All strong biofilm formers were also motile, which is in agreement with the proposed mechanism of surface attachment. We established transposon mutants for the four genes of the rhamnose operon from P. inhibens and proved its crucial role in biofilm formation. In the Roseobacter group, two-thirds of the predicted biofilm plasmids represent the RepA-I type and their physiological role was experimentally validated via plasmid curing for four additional strains. Horizontal transfer of these replicons was documented by a comparison of the RepA-I phylogeny with the species tree. A gene content analysis of 35 RepA-I plasmids revealed a core set of genes, including the rhamnose operon and a specific ABC transporter for polysaccharide export. Taken together, our data show that RepA-I-type biofilm plasmids are essential for the sessile mode of life in the majority of cultivated roseobacters.

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