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Open Access Research article

The genetic diversity of cereulide biosynthesis gene cluster indicates a composite transposon Tnces in emetic Bacillus weihenstephanensis

Xiaofen Mei12, Kai Xu12, Lingling Yang1, Zhiming Yuan1, Jacques Mahillon3 and Xiaomin Hu1*

  • * Corresponding author: Xiaomin Hu

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Agricultural and Environmental Microbiology, Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan 430071, China

2 University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100039, China

3 Laboratory of Food and Environmental Microbiology, Université catholique de Louvain, Croix du Sud 2 - L7.05.12, Louvain-la-Neuve B-1348, Belgium

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:149  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-149

Published: 7 June 2014



Cereulide is a cyclic dodecadepsipeptide ionophore, produced via non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS), which in rare cases can lead to human death. Early studies had shown that emetic toxin formation belongs to a homogeneous group of Bacillus cereus sensu stricto and the genetic determinants of cereulide (a 24-kb gene cluster of cesHPTABCD) are located on a 270-kb plasmid related to the Bacillus anthracis virulence plasmid pXO1.


The whole genome sequences from seven emetic isolates, including two B. cereus sensu stricto and five Bacillus weihenstephanensis strains, were compared, and their inside and adjacent DNA sequences of the cereulide biosynthesis gene clusters were analyzed. The sequence diversity was observed, which classified the seven emetic isolates into three clades. Different genomic locations of the cereulide biosynthesis gene clusters, plasmid-borne and chromosome-borne, were also found. Potential mobile genetic elements (MGEs) were identified in the flanking sequences of the ces gene cluster in all three types. The most striking observation was the identification of a putative composite transposon, Tnces, consisting of two copies of ISces element (belonging to IS6 family) in opposite orientations flanking the ces gene cluster in emetic B. weihenstephanensis. The mobility of this element was tested by replacing the ces gene cluster by a KmR gene marker and performing mating-out transposition assays in Escherichia coli. The results showed that Tnces::km transposes efficiently (1.04 × 10-3 T/R) and produces 8-bp direct repeat (DR) at the insertion sites.


Cereulide biosynthesis gene clusters display sequence diversity, different genomic locations and association with MGEs, in which the transposition capacity of a resistant derivative of the composite transposon Tnces in E. coli was demonstrated. Further study is needed to look for appropriate genetic tools to analysis the transposition of Tnces in Bacillus spp. and the dynamics of other MGEs flanking the ces gene clusters.

Cereulide; Bacillus cereus; Bacillus weihenstephanensis; Transposon; Plasmid