Plasmid transfer in the animal intestine and other dynamic bacterial populations: the role of community structure and environment

Microbiology. 1999 Sep;145 ( Pt 9):2615-2622. doi: 10.1099/00221287-145-9-2615.


The transfer of the R1drd19 plasmid between isogenic strains of Escherichia coli BJ4 in batch cultures of laboratory media and intestinal extracts was compared. Using an estimate of plasmid transfer rate that is independent of cell density, of donor:recipient ratios and of mating time, it was found that transfer occurs at a much lower rate in intestinal extracts than in laboratory media. Furthermore, the results suggest that the majority of intestinal plasmid transfer takes place in the viscous mucus layer covering the epithelial cells. Investigation of plasmid transfer in different flow systems harbouring a dynamic, continuously growing population of constant size showed that transfer kinetics were strongly influenced by bacterial biofilm formation. When donor and recipient populations were subjected to continuous mixing, as in a chemostat, transfer continued to occur at a constant rate. When donor and recipient populations retained fixed spatial locations, as in a biofilm, transfer occurred very rapidly in the initial phase, after which no further transfer was detected. From in vivo studies of plasmid transfer in the intestine of streptomycin-treated mice, results were obtained which were similar to those obtained in the biofilm, but differed markedly from those obtained in the chemostat. In spite of peristaltic movements in the gut, and of apparently even distribution of E. coli as single cells in the intestinal mucus, the intestinal environment displays transfer kinetics different from those expected of a mixed, liquid culture, but quite similar to those of a biofilm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Conjugation, Genetic*
  • Culture Media
  • Ecosystem
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development*
  • Female
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Mice
  • Plasmids / genetics*
  • Rats


  • Culture Media