A Bioinformatic Analysis of Integrative Mobile Genetic Elements Highlights Their Role in Bacterial Adaptation

Cell Host Microbe. 2020 Jan 8;27(1):140-153.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2019.10.022. Epub 2019 Dec 17.


Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) contribute to bacterial adaptation and evolution; however, high-throughput, unbiased MGE detection remains challenging. We describe MGEfinder, a bioinformatic toolbox that identifies integrative MGEs and their insertion sites by using short-read sequencing data. MGEfinder identifies the genomic site of each MGE insertion and infers the identity of the inserted sequence. We apply MGEfinder to 12,374 sequenced isolates of 9 prevalent bacterial pathogens, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli, and identify thousands of MGEs, including candidate insertion sequences, conjugative transposons, and prophage elements. The MGE repertoire and insertion rates vary across species, and integration sites often cluster near genes related to antibiotic resistance, virulence, and pathogenicity. MGE insertions likely contribute to antibiotic resistance in laboratory experiments and clinical isolates. Additionally, we identified thousands of mobility genes, a subset of which have unknown function opening avenues for exploration. Future application of MGEfinder to commensal bacteria will further illuminate bacterial adaptation and evolution.

Keywords: adaptation; antibiotic resistance; bacteria; bioinformatics; insertion sequences; mobile genetic elements; pathogen; phage; transposable elements; transposon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / genetics
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • DNA Transposable Elements / genetics*
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial / genetics
  • Prophages / genetics
  • Prophages / isolation & purification
  • Virulence / genetics


  • DNA Transposable Elements