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Sci Rep. 2019 Jun 20;9(1):8915. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45429-z.

Excision and transfer of an integrating and conjugative element in a bacterial species with high recombination efficiency.

Author information

1
Max von Pettenkofer Institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, LMU München, 80336, München, Germany.
2
Max von Pettenkofer Institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, LMU München, 80336, München, Germany. fischer@mvp.lmu.de.

Abstract

Horizontal transfer of mobile genetic elements, such as integrating and conjugative elements (ICEs), plays an important role in generating diversity and maintaining comprehensive pan-genomes in bacterial populations. The human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori, which is known for its extreme genetic diversity, possesses highly efficient transformation and recombination systems to achieve this diversity, but it is unclear to what extent these systems influence ICE physiology. In this study, we have examined the excision/integration and horizontal transfer characteristics of an ICE (termed ICEHptfs4) in these bacteria. We show that transfer of ICEHptfs4 DNA during mating between donor and recipient strains is independent of its conjugation genes, and that homologous recombination is much more efficient than site-specific integration into the recipient chromosome. Nevertheless, ICEHptfs4 excision by site-specific recombination occurs permanently in a subpopulation of cells and involves relocation of a circularization-dependent promoter. Selection experiments for excision indicate that the circular form of ICEHptfs4 is not replicative, but readily reintegrates by site-specific recombination. Thus, although ICEHptfs4 harbours all essential transfer genes, and typical ICE functions such as site-specific integration are active in H. pylori, canonical ICE transfer is subordinate to the more efficient general DNA uptake and homologous recombination machineries in these bacteria.

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