The complete nucleotide sequence of the resistance plasmid R478: Defining the backbone components of incompatibility group H conjugative plasmids through comparative genomics

Matthew W. Gilmour, Nicholas R. Thomson, Mandy Sanders, Julian Parkhill, Diane E. Taylor

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132 Citations (Scopus)


Horizontal transfer of resistance determinants amongst bacteria can be achieved by conjugative plasmid DNA elements. We have determined the complete 274,762 bp sequence of the incompatibility group H (IncH) plasmid R478, originally isolated from the Gram negative opportunistic pathogen Serratia marcescens. This self-transferable extrachromosomal genetic element contains 295 predicted genes, of which 144 are highly similar to coding sequences of IncH plasmids R27 and pHCM1. The regions of similarity among these three IncH plasmids principally encode core plasmid determinants (i.e., replication, partitioning and stability, and conjugative transfer) and we conducted a comparative analysis to define the minimal IncHI plasmid backbone determinants. No resistance determinants are included in the backbone and most of the sequences unique to R478 were contained in a large contiguous region between the two transfer regions. These findings indicate that plasmid evolution occurs through gene acquisition/loss predominantly in regions outside of the core determinants. Furthermore, a modular evolution for R478 was signified by the presence of gene neighbors or operons that were highly related to sequences from a wide range of chromosomal, transposon, and plasmid elements. The conjugative transfer regions are most similar to sequences encoded on SXT, Rts1, pCAR1, R391, and pRS241d. The dual partitioning modules encoded on R478 resemble numerous sequences; including pMT1, pCTX-M3, pCP301, P1, P7, and pB171. R478 also codes for resistance to tetracycline (Tn10), chloramphenicol (cat), kanamycin (aphA), mercury (similar to Tn21), silver (similar to pMG101), copper (similar to pRJ1004), arsenic (similar to pYV), and tellurite (two separate regions similar to IncHI2 ter determinants and IncP kla determinants). Other R478-encoded sequences are related to Tn7, IS26, tus, mucAB, and hok, where the latter is surrounded by insLKJ, and could potentially be involved in post-segregation killing. The similarity to a diverse set of bacterial sequences highlights the ability of horizontally transferable DNA elements to acquire and disseminate genetic traits through the bacterial gene pool.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-202
Number of pages21
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2004


  • Backbone
  • Comparative analysis
  • Conjugative transfer
  • Plasmid sequence

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