Genomic islands (GEIs) are large DNA segments, present in most bacterial genomes, that are most likely acquired via horizontal gene transfer. Here, we study the self-transfer system of the integrative and conjugative element ICEclc of Pseudomonas knackmussii B13, which stands model for a larger group of ICE/GEI with syntenic core gene organization. Functional screening revealed that unlike conjugative plasmids and other ICEs ICEclc carries two separate origins of transfer, with different sequence context but containing a similar repeat motif. Conjugation experiments with GFP-labelled ICEclc variants showed that both oriTs are used for transfer and with indistinguishable efficiencies, but that having two oriTs results in an estimated fourfold increase of ICEclc transfer rates in a population compared with having a single oriT. A gene for a relaxase essential for ICEclc transfer was also identified, but in vivo strand exchange assays suggested that the relaxase processes both oriTs in a different manner. This unique dual origin of transfer system might have provided an evolutionary advantage for distribution of ICE, a hypothesis that is supported by the fact that both oriT regions are conserved in several GEIs related to ICEclc.
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.