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Open Access Research article

Integration of a laterally acquired gene into a cell network important for growth in a strain of Vibrio rotiferianus

Maurizio Labbate1, Yan Boucher2, Piklu Roy Chowdhury1 and Hatch W Stokes1*

Author Affiliations

1 The ithree institute, University of Technology, Sydney. Harris Street and Broadway, Sydney, NSW 2007, Australia

2 Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta. 110 St NW Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2R3, Canada

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BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:253  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-253

Published: 18 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Lateral Gene Transfer (LGT) is a major contributor to bacterial evolution and up to 25% of a bacterium's genome may have been acquired by this process over evolutionary periods of time. Successful LGT requires both the physical transfer of DNA and its successful incorporation into the host cell. One system that contributes to this latter step by site-specific recombination is the integron. Integrons are found in many diverse bacterial Genera and is a genetic system ubiquitous in vibrios that captures mobile DNA at a dedicated site. The presence of integron-associated genes, contained within units of mobile DNA called gene cassettes makes up a substantial component of the vibrio genome (1-3%). Little is known about the role of this system since the vast majority of genes in vibrio arrays are highly novel and functions cannot be ascribed. It is generally regarded that strain-specific mobile genes cannot be readily integrated into the cellular machinery since any perturbation of core metabolism is likely to result in a loss of fitness.

Results

In this study, at least one mobile gene contained within the Vibrio rotiferianus strain DAT722, but lacking close relatives elsewhere, is shown to greatly reduce host fitness when deleted and tested in growth assays. The precise role of the mobile gene product is unknown but impacts on the regulation of outermembrane porins. This demonstrates that strain specific laterally acquired mobile DNA can be integrated rapidly into bacterial networks such that it becomes advantageous for survival and adaptation in changing environments.

Conclusions

Mobile genes that are highly strain specific are generally believed to act in isolation. This is because perturbation of existing cell machinery by the acquisition of a new gene by LGT is highly likely to lower fitness. In contrast, we show here that at least one mobile gene, apparently unique to a strain, encodes a product that has integrated into central cellular metabolic processes such that it greatly lowers fitness when lost under those conditions likely to be commonly encountered for the free living cell. This has ramifications for our understanding of the role mobile gene encoded products play in the cell from a systems biology perspective.