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Open Access Research article

Gene cassette transcription in a large integron-associated array

Carolyn A Michael1* and Maurizio Labbate2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia

2 The I3 Institute, University of Technology, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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Citation and License

BMC Genetics 2010, 11:82  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-11-82

Published: 15 September 2010

Abstract

Background

The integron/gene cassette system is a diverse and effective adaptive resource for prokaryotes. Short cassette arrays, with less than 10 cassettes adjacent to an integron, provide this resource through the expression of cassette-associated genes by an integron-borne promoter. However, the advantage provided by large arrays containing hundreds of cassettes is less obvious. In this work, using the 116-cassette array of Vibrio sp. DAT722 as a model, we investigated the theory that the majority of genes contained within large cassette arrays are widely expressed by intra-array promoters in addition to the integron-borne promoter.

Results

We demonstrated that the majority of the cassette-associated genes in the subject array were expressed. We further showed that cassette expression was conditional and that the conditionality varied across the array. We finally showed that this expression was mediated by a diversity of cassette-borne promoters within the array capable of responding to environmental stressors.

Conclusions

Widespread expression within large gene cassette arrays could provide an adaptive advantage to the host in proportion to the size of the array. Our findings explained the existence and maintenance of large cassette arrays within many prokaryotes. Further, we suggested that repeated rearrangement of cassettes containing genes and/or promoters within large arrays could result in the assembly of operon-like groups of co-expressed cassettes within an array. These findings add to our understanding of the adaptive repertoire of the integron/gene cassette system in prokaryotes and consequently, the evolutionary impact of this system.