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Stochasticity and bistability in horizontal transfer control of a genomic island in Pseudomonas.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Genomic islands (GEI) comprise a recently recognized large family of potentially mobile DNA elements and play an important role in the rapid differentiation and adaptation of bacteria. Most importantly, GEIs have been implicated in the acquisition of virulence factors, antibiotic resistances or toxic compound metabolism. Despite detailed information on coding capacities of GEIs, little is known about the regulatory decisions in individual cells controlling GEI transfer. Here, we show how self-transfer of ICEclc, a GEI in Pseudomonas knackmussii B13 is controlled by a series of stochastic processes, the result of which is that only a few percent of cells in a population will excise ICEclc and launch transfer. Stochastic processes have been implicated before in producing bistable phenotypic transitions, such as sporulation and competence development, but never before in horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Bistability is instigated during stationary phase at the level of expression of an activator protein InrR that lays encoded on ICEclc, and then faithfully propagated to a bistable expression of the IntB13 integrase, the enzyme responsible for excision and integration of the ICEclc. Our results demonstrate how GEI of a very widespread family are likely to control their transfer rates. Furthermore, they help to explain why HGT is typically confined to few members within a population of cells. The finding that, despite apparent stochasticity, HGT rates can be modulated by external environmental conditions provides an explanation as to why selective conditions can promote DNA exchange.
Bacterial Proteins, DNA Transposable Elements, Evolution, Molecular, Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial, Gene Transfer, Horizontal, Genomic Islands, Integrases, Pseudomonas
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