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Mobility of Plasmids

Abstract : 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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C. Smillie, M. P. Garcillan-Barcia, M. V. Francia, E. P. C. Rocha, F. de la Cruz. Mobility of Plasmids. Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, American Society for Microbiology, 2010, 74 (3), pp.434 - 452. ⟨10.1128/MMBR.00020-10⟩. ⟨pasteur-01374958⟩

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