Evidence for dynamic exchange of qac gene cassettes between class 1 integrons and other integrons in freshwater biofilms.
ABSTRACT Class 1 integrons carried by pathogens have acquired over 100 different gene cassettes encoding resistance to antimicrobial compounds, helping to generate a crisis in the management of infectious disease. It is presumed that these cassettes originated from environmental bacteria, but exchange of gene cassettes has surprisingly never been demonstrated outside laboratory or clinical contexts. We aimed to identify a natural environment where such exchanges might occur, and determine the phylogenetic range of participating integrons. Here we examine freshwater biofilms and show that families of cassettes conferring resistance to quaternary ammonium compounds (qac) are found on class 1 integrons identical to those from clinical contexts, on sequence variants of class 1 integrons only known from natural environments, and on other diverse classes of integrons only known from the chromosomes of soil and freshwater Proteobacteria. We conclude that gene cassettes might be readily shared between different integron classes found in environmental, commensal and pathogenic bacteria. This suggests that class 1 integrons in pathogens have access to a vast pool of gene cassettes, any of which could confer a phenotype of clinical relevance. Exploration of this resource might allow identification of resistance or virulence genes before they become part of multi-drug-resistant human pathogens.
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ABSTRACT: Class 1 integrons are one of the most successful elements in the acquisition, expression and spread of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARG) among clinical isolates. Little is known about the gene flow of the components of the genetic platforms of class 1 integrons within and between bacterial communities. Thus it is important to better understand the interactions among "environmental" intI1, its genetic platforms and its distribution with human activities. An evaluation of two types of genetic determinants, ARG (sul1 and qacE1/qacEΔ1 genes) and lateral genetic elements (LGE) (intI1, ISCR1 and tniC genes) in a model of a culture-based method without antibiotic selection was conducted in a gradient of anthropogenic disturbances in a Patagonian island recognized as being one of the last regions containing wild areas. The intI1, ISCR1 genes and intI1 pseudogenes that were found widespread throughout natural communities were not associated with urbanization (p>0.05). Each ARG that is embedded in the most common genetic platform of clinical class 1 integrons, showed different ecological and molecular behaviours in environmental samples. While the sul1 gene frequency was associated with urbanization, the qacE1/qacEΔ1 gene showed an adaptive role to several habitats. The high frequency of intI1 pseudogenes suggests that, although intI1 has a deleterious impact within several genomes, it can easily be disseminated among natural bacterial communities. The widespread occurrence of ISCR1 and intI1 throughout Patagonian sites with different degree of urbanization, and within different taxa, could be one of the causes of the increasing frequency of multidrug-resistant isolates that have characterized Argentina for decades. The flow of ARG and LGE between natural and clinical communities cannot be explained with a single general process but is a direct consequence of the interaction of multiple factors operating at molecular, ecological, phylogenetic and historical levels.PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(6):e39223. · 4.09 Impact Factor