The O-antigen is a highly diverse structure expressed on the outer surface of Gram-negative bacteria. The products responsible for O-antigen synthesis are encoded in the wbe region, which exhibits extensive genetic diversity. While heterogeneous O-antigens are observed within Vibrio species, characterization of these structures has been devoted almost exclusively to pathogens. Here, we investigate O-antigen diversity among coastal marine Vibrio splendidus-like isolates. The wbe region was first identified and characterized using the sequenced genomes of strains LGP32, 12B01 and Med222. These regions were genetically diverse, reflective of their expressed O-antigen. Additional isolates from physically distinct habitats in Plum Island Estuary (MA, USA), including within animal hosts and on suspended particles, were further characterized based on multilocus sequence analysis (MLSA) and O-antigen profiles. Results showed serotype diversity within an ecological setting. Among 48 isolates which were identical in three MLSA genes, 41 showed gpm genetic diversity, a gene closely linked to the wbe locus, and at least 12 expressed different O-antigen profiles further suggesting wbe genetic diversity. Our results demonstrate O-antigen hyper-variability among these environmental strains and suggest that frequent lateral gene transfer generates wbe extensive diversity among V. splendidus and its close relatives.
© 2010 Society for Applied Microbiology and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.