Specialization of small non-conjugative plasmids in Escherichia coli according to their family types

Microb Genom. 2019 Sep;5(9):e000281. doi: 10.1099/mgen.0.000281. Epub 2019 Aug 5.


We undertook a comprehensive comparative analysis of a collection of 30 small (<25 kb) non-conjugative Escherichia coli plasmids previously classified by the gene sharing approach into 10 families, as well as plasmids found in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) nucleotide database sharing similar genomic sequences. In total, 302 mobilizable (belonging to 2 MOBrep and 5 MOBRNA families) and 106 non-transferable/relaxase-negative (belonging to three ReLRNA families) plasmids were explored. The most striking feature was the specialization of the plasmid family types that was not related to their transmission mode and replication system. We observed a range of host strain specificity, from narrow E. coli host specificity to broad host range specificity, including a wide spectrum of Enterobacteriaceae. We found a wide variety of toxin/antitoxin systems and colicin operons in the plasmids, whose numbers and types varied according to the plasmid family type. The plasmids carried genes conferring resistance spanning almost all of the antibiotic classes, from those to which resistance developed early, such as sulphonamides, to those for which resistance has only developed recently, such as colistin. However, the prevalence of the resistance genes varied greatly according to the family type, ranging from 0 to 100 %. The evolutionary history of the plasmids based on the family type core genes showed variability within family nucleotide divergences in the range of E. coli chromosomal housekeeping genes, indicating long-term co-evolution between plasmids and host strains. In rare cases, a low evolutionary divergence suggested the massive spread of an epidemic plasmid. Overall, the importance of these small non-conjugative plasmids in bacterial adaptation varied greatly according to the type of family they belonged to, with each plasmid family having specific hosts and genetic traits.

Keywords: Escherichia coli; classification; evolutionary history; small non-conjugative plasmids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Genetic
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Frequency
  • Phylogeny
  • Plasmids / classification
  • Plasmids / genetics
  • Plasmids / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity