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PLoS Genet. 2019 Jan 7;15(1):e1007883. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007883. eCollection 2019 Jan.

CDI/CDS system-encoding genes of Burkholderia thailandensis are located in a mobile genetic element that defines a new class of transposon.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, NC, United States of America.


Intercellular communication and self-recognition are critical for coordinating cooperative and competitive behaviors during sociomicrobiological community development. Contact-dependent growth inhibition (CDI) proteins are polymorphic toxin delivery systems that inhibit the growth of non-self neighboring bacteria that lack the appropriate immunity protein. In Burkholderia thailandensis, CDI system proteins (encoded by bcpAIOB genes) also induce cooperative behaviors among sibling (self) cells, a phenomenon called contact-dependent signaling (CDS). Here we describe a mobile genetic element (MGE) that carries the bcpAIOB genes in B. thailandensis E264. It is a ~210 kb composite transposon with insertion sequence (IS) elements at each end. Although the ISs are most similar to IS2 of Escherichia coli, the transposase-dependent intermediate molecule displays characteristics more similar to those of the IS26 translocatable unit (TU). A reaction requiring only the "left" IS-encoded transposase results in formation of an extrachromosomal circular dsDNA intermediate ("the megacircle") composed of the left IS and the sequences intervening between the ISs. Insertion of the megacircle into the chromosome occurs next to a pre-existing copy of an IS2-like element, recreating a functional composite transposon. We found that BcpA activity is required for megacircle formation, and in turn, megacircle formation is required for CDS phenotypes. Our data support a model in which the bcpAIOB genes function as both helping and harming greenbeard genes, simultaneously enhancing the fitness of self bacteria that possess the same allele plus tightly linked genes that mediate cooperative behaviors, and killing non-self bacteria that do not possess the same bcpAIOB allele. Mobility of the megacircle between cells could allow bacteria invading a community to be converted to self, and would facilitate propagation of the bcpAIOB genes in the event that the invading strain is capable of overtaking the resident community.

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The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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