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      The Obscure World of Integrative and Mobilizable Elements, Highly Widespread Elements that Pirate Bacterial Conjugative Systems

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          Conjugation is a key mechanism of bacterial evolution that involves mobile genetic elements. Recent findings indicated that the main actors of conjugative transfer are not the well-known conjugative or mobilizable plasmids but are the integrated elements. This paper reviews current knowledge on “integrative and mobilizable elements” (IMEs) that have recently been shown to be highly diverse and highly widespread but are still rarely described. IMEs encode their own excision and integration and use the conjugation machinery of unrelated co-resident conjugative element for their own transfer. Recent studies revealed a much more complex and much more diverse lifecycle than initially thought. Besides their main transmission as integrated elements, IMEs probably use plasmid-like strategies to ensure their maintenance after excision. Their interaction with conjugative elements reveals not only harmless hitchhikers but also hunters that use conjugative elements as target for their integration or harmful parasites that subvert the conjugative apparatus of incoming elements to invade cells that harbor them. IMEs carry genes conferring various functions, such as resistance to antibiotics, that can enhance the fitness of their hosts and that contribute to their maintenance in bacterial populations. Taken as a whole, IMEs are probably major contributors to bacterial evolution.

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          Mobility of plasmids.

          Plasmids are key vectors of horizontal gene transfer and essential genetic engineering tools. They code for genes involved in many aspects of microbial biology, including detoxication, virulence, ecological interactions, and antibiotic resistance. While many studies have decorticated the mechanisms of mobility in model plasmids, the identification and characterization of plasmid mobility from genome data are unexplored. By reviewing the available data and literature, we established a computational protocol to identify and classify conjugation and mobilization genetic modules in 1,730 plasmids. This allowed the accurate classification of proteobacterial conjugative or mobilizable systems in a combination of four mating pair formation and six relaxase families. The available evidence suggests that half of the plasmids are nonmobilizable and that half of the remaining plasmids are conjugative. Some conjugative systems are much more abundant than others and preferably associated with some clades or plasmid sizes. Most very large plasmids are nonmobilizable, with evidence of ongoing domestication into secondary chromosomes. The evolution of conjugation elements shows ancient divergence between mobility systems, with relaxases and type IV coupling proteins (T4CPs) often following separate paths from type IV secretion systems. Phylogenetic patterns of mobility proteins are consistent with the phylogeny of the host prokaryotes, suggesting that plasmid mobility is in general circumscribed within large clades. Our survey suggests the existence of unsuspected new relaxases in archaea and new conjugation systems in cyanobacteria and actinobacteria. Few genes, e.g., T4CPs, relaxases, and VirB4, are at the core of plasmid conjugation, and together with accessory genes, they have evolved into specific systems adapted to specific physiological and ecological contexts.
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            The diversity of conjugative relaxases and its application in plasmid classification.

            Bacterial conjugation is an efficient and sophisticated mechanism of DNA transfer among bacteria. While mobilizable plasmids only encode a minimal MOB machinery that allows them to be transported by other plasmids, conjugative plasmids encode a complete set of transfer genes (MOB1T4SS). The only essential ingredient of the MOB machinery is the relaxase, the protein that initiates and terminates conjugative DNA processing. In this review we compared the sequences and properties of the relaxase proteins contained in gene sequence databases. Proteins were arranged in families and phylogenetic trees constructed from the family alignments. This allowed the classification of conjugative transfer systems in six MOB families:MOB(F), MOB(H), MOB(Q), MOB(C), MOB(P) and MOB(V). The main characteristics of each family were reviewed. The phylogenetic relationships of the coupling proteins were also analysed and resulted in phylogenies congruent to those of the cognate relaxases. We propose that the sequences of plasmid relaxases can be used for plasmid classification. We hope our effort will provide researchers with a useful tool for further mining and analysing the plasmid universe both experimentally and in silico.
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              The genome of Burkholderia cenocepacia J2315, an epidemic pathogen of cystic fibrosis patients.

              Bacterial infections of the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients cause major complications in the treatment of this common genetic disease. Burkholderia cenocepacia infection is particularly problematic since this organism has high levels of antibiotic resistance, making it difficult to eradicate; the resulting chronic infections are associated with severe declines in lung function and increased mortality rates. B. cenocepacia strain J2315 was isolated from a CF patient and is a member of the epidemic ET12 lineage that originated in Canada or the United Kingdom and spread to Europe. The 8.06-Mb genome of this highly transmissible pathogen comprises three circular chromosomes and a plasmid and encodes a broad array of functions typical of this metabolically versatile genus, as well as numerous virulence and drug resistance functions. Although B. cenocepacia strains can be isolated from soil and can be pathogenic to both plants and man, J2315 is representative of a lineage of B. cenocepacia rarely isolated from the environment and which spreads between CF patients. Comparative analysis revealed that ca. 21% of the genome is unique in comparison to other strains of B. cenocepacia, highlighting the genomic plasticity of this species. Pseudogenes in virulence determinants suggest that the pathogenic response of J2315 may have been recently selected to promote persistence in the CF lung. The J2315 genome contains evidence that its unique and highly adapted genetic content has played a significant role in its success as an epidemic CF pathogen.

                Author and article information

                Genes (Basel)
                Genes (Basel)
                22 November 2017
                November 2017
                : 8
                : 11
                DynAMic, Université de Lorraine, INRA, 54506 Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France; virginie.libante@ (V.L.); charles.coluzzi@ (C.C.); sophie.payot-lacroix@ (S.P.)
                Author notes
                [* ]Correspondence: gerard.guedon@ (G.G.); nathalie.leblond@ (N.L.-B.); Tel.: +33-037-274-5142 (G.G.); +33-037-274-5146 (N.L.-B.)
                © 2017 by the authors.

                Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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