Interspecies recombination between enterococci: genetic and phenotypic diversity of vancomycin-resistant transconjugants

Microb Drug Resist. Summer 1999;5(2):101-12. doi: 10.1089/mdr.1999.5.101.


Handwerger and colleagues demonstrated that a particular clinical isolate of Enterococcus faecium, designated GUC, and here redesignated as GUCR, can conjugatively transfer vancomycin resistance. The vancomycin resistance is encoded by a chromosomally born linked set of genes in the donor, designated the vanA cluster, to the chromosome of an E. faecalis recipient, JH2-2. Here it is reported that an earlier isolate of E. faecium from the same patient who later harbored the vancomycin-resistant E. faecium GUCR lacks the vanA gene cluster but is otherwise similar (by SmaI chromosomal fingerprint and metabolic fingerprinting) to the vancomycin-resistant GUCR. Therefore, "GUCS" is a strong suspect as the base strain for the clinical acquisition of the vanA cluster present in GUCR. Thirteen laboratory-generated vanA transconjugants derived from conjugation between GUCR and JH2-2 were subjected to further analysis, allowing a comparison between transfer in the laboratory and transfer that occurred in the clinical setting. Surprisingly, each JH2-2 transconjugant had a unique constellation of abilities to oxidize various members of a panel of potential carbon sources. This pattern was stable for each transconjugant, and it was not changed by growing the strains with or without vancomycin. Transconjugants had pulsed-field gel electrophoretic (PFGE) patterns largely consistent with that of JH2-2, the recipient in conjugation experiments. However, PFGE analysis showed that a large but variable amount of DNA, between 145 kb and 277 kb, was transferred into different transconjugants. The mechanism appears to be conjugative transposition in which new DNA is added to the pre-existing genome rather than substituting for a segment in the recipient. Mapping and hybridization studies of several transconjugants showed that each received similar, but not exactly the same, DNA fragment of at least 30 kb from the donor. Sequencing of 16S ribosomal genes was used to confirm that the recipient and donor strains used in transconjugation experiments were different species. Sequence analysis was also used to consider the possibility that rRNA operons might be mobilized in conjugation, but no evidence for the transfer of rDNA operons was found. An apparent insertion sequence in E. faecium almost identical to IS 1485 and 57% sequence identity to IS 199 of Streptococcus mutans was found in the region of DNA transferred. The results imply new consequences of conjugative transfer and interspecies recombination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Base Sequence
  • Conjugation, Genetic
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Electrophoresis, Gel, Pulsed-Field
  • Enterococcus faecium / genetics*
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phenotype
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Species Specificity
  • Vancomycin / pharmacology*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • Vancomycin

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF070223
  • GENBANK/AF070224