Background: The emergence of plasmid-mediated carbapenemases, such as NDM-1 in Enterobacteriaceae is a major public health issue. Since they mediate resistance to virtually all β-lactam antibiotics and there is often co-resistance to other antibiotic classes, the therapeutic options for infections caused by these organisms are very limited.
Methodology: We characterized the first NDM-1 producing E. coli isolate recovered in Hong Kong. The plasmid encoding the metallo-β-lactamase gene was sequenced.
Principal findings: The plasmid, pNDM-HK readily transferred to E. coli J53 at high frequencies. It belongs to the broad host range IncL/M incompatibility group and is 88803 bp in size. Sequence alignment showed that pNDM-HK has a 55 kb backbone which shared 97% homology with pEL60 originating from the plant pathogen, Erwina amylovora in Lebanon and a 28.9 kb variable region. The plasmid backbone includes the mucAB genes mediating ultraviolet light resistance. The 28.9 kb region has a composite transposon-like structure which includes intact or truncated genes associated with resistance to β-lactams (bla(TEM-1), bla(NDM-1), Δbla(DHA-1)), aminoglycosides (aacC2, armA), sulphonamides (sul1) and macrolides (mel, mph2). It also harbors the following mobile elements: IS26, ISCR1, tnpU, tnpAcp2, tnpD, ΔtnpATn1 and insL. Certain blocks within the 28.9 kb variable region had homology with the corresponding sequences in the widely disseminated plasmids, pCTX-M3, pMUR050 and pKP048 originating from bacteria in Poland in 1996, in Spain in 2002 and in China in 2006, respectively.
Significance: The genetic support of NDM-1 gene suggests that it has evolved through complex pathways. The association with broad host range plasmid and multiple mobile genetic elements explain its observed horizontal mobility in multiple bacterial taxa.