A marine plasmid hitchhiking vast phylogenetic and geographic distances

Jörn Petersen, John Vollmers, Victoria Ringel, Henner Brinkmann, Claire Ellebrandt-Sperling, Cathrin Spröer, Alexandra M Howat, J Colin Murrell, Anne-Kristin Kaster

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16 Citations (Scopus)
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Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) plays an important role in bacterial evolution and serves as a driving force for bacterial diversity and versatility. HGT events often involve mobile genetic elements like plasmids, which can promote their own dissemination by associating with adaptive traits in the gene pool of the so-called mobilome. Novel traits that evolve through HGT can therefore lead to the exploitation of new ecological niches, prompting an adaptive radiation of bacterial species. In this study, we present phylogenetic, biogeographic, and functional analyses of a previously unrecognized RepL-type plasmid found in diverse members of the marine Roseobacter group across the globe. Noteworthy, 100% identical plasmids were detected in phylogenetically and geographically distant bacteria, revealing a so-far overlooked, but environmentally highly relevant vector for HGT. The genomic and functional characterization of this plasmid showed a completely conserved backbone dedicated to replication, stability, and mobilization as well as an interchangeable gene cassette with highly diverse, but recurring motifs. The majority of the latter appear to be involved in mechanisms coping with toxins and/or pollutants in the marine environment. Furthermore, we provide experimental evidence that the plasmid has the potential to be transmitted across bacterial orders, thereby increasing our understanding of evolution and microbial niche adaptation in the environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20568-20573
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
Early online date23 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2019

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