Influence of industrial contamination on mobile genetic elements: class 1 integron abundance and gene cassette structure in aquatic bacterial communities

ISME J. 2008 Apr;2(4):417-28. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2008.8. Epub 2008 Feb 14.


The acquisition of new genetic material via horizontal gene transfer allows bacteria to rapidly evolve. One key to estimating the contribution of horizontal gene transfer to bacterial evolution is to quantify the abundance of mobile genetic elements (MGEs) in bacterial communities under varying degrees of selective pressure. We quantified class 1 integrase (intI1) gene abundance in total community DNA extracted from contaminated and reference riverine and estuarine microhabitats, and in metal- or antibiotic-amended freshwater microcosms. The intI1 gene was more abundant in all contaminant-exposed communities indicating that relative gene transfer potential is higher in these communities. A second key to assessing the contributions of MGEs to bacterial evolution is to examine the structure and function of the MGE-associated gene pool. We determined that the gene cassette pool is a novel and diverse resource available for bacterial acquisition, but that contamination has no discernible effect on cassette richness. Gene cassette profiles were more similar within sites than among sites, yet bacterial community profiles were not, suggesting that selective pressures can shape the structure of the gene cassette pool. Of the 46 sequenced gene cassette products, 37 were novel sequences, while the 9 gene cassettes with similarity to database sequences were primarily to hypothetical proteins. That class 1 integrons are ubiquitous and abundant in environmental bacterial communities indicates that this group of MGEs can play a substantial role in the acquisition of a diverse array of gene cassettes beyond their demonstrated impact in mediating multidrug resistance in clinical bacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fresh Water / chemistry
  • Fresh Water / microbiology
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Geologic Sediments / microbiology
  • Georgia
  • Industrial Microbiology
  • Integrases / genetics*
  • Integrons / genetics*
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Rivers / microbiology*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • South Carolina
  • Water Pollution / analysis*


  • DNA Transposable Elements
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Integrases
  • integron integrase IntI1