Diverse broad-host-range plasmids from freshwater carry few accessory genes

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Dec;79(24):7684-95. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02252-13. Epub 2013 Oct 4.


Broad-host-range self-transferable plasmids are known to facilitate bacterial adaptation by spreading genes between phylogenetically distinct hosts. These plasmids typically have a conserved backbone region and a variable accessory region that encodes host-beneficial traits. We do not know, however, how well plasmids that do not encode accessory functions can survive in nature. The goal of this study was to characterize the backbone and accessory gene content of plasmids that were captured from freshwater sources without selecting for a particular phenotype or cultivating their host. To do this, triparental matings were used such that the only required phenotype was the plasmid's ability to mobilize a nonconjugative plasmid. Based on complete genome sequences of 10 plasmids, only 5 carried identifiable accessory gene regions, and none carried antibiotic resistance genes. The plasmids belong to four known incompatibility groups (IncN, IncP-1, IncU, and IncW) and two potentially new groups. Eight of the plasmids were shown to have a broad host range, being able to transfer into alpha-, beta-, and gammaproteobacteria. Because of the absence of antibiotic resistance genes, we resampled one of the sites and compared the proportion of captured plasmids that conferred antibiotic resistance to their hosts with the proportion of such plasmids captured from the effluent of a local wastewater treatment plant. Few of the captured plasmids from either site encoded antibiotic resistance. A high diversity of plasmids that encode no or unknown accessory functions is thus readily found in freshwater habitats. The question remains how the plasmids persist in these microbial communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conjugation, Genetic
  • DNA, Bacterial / chemistry
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Genes, Bacterial*
  • Host Specificity
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Plasmids / isolation & purification*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Bacterial

Associated data

  • GENBANK/KC170278
  • GENBANK/KC170279
  • GENBANK/KC170280
  • GENBANK/KC170281
  • GENBANK/KC170282
  • GENBANK/KC170283
  • GENBANK/KC170284
  • GENBANK/KC170285