Novel assay to measure the plasmid mobilizing potential of mixed microbial communities

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Mobilizable plasmids lack necessary genes for complete conjugation and are therefore non-self-transmissible. Instead, they rely on the conjugation system of conjugal plasmids to be horizontally transferred to new recipients. While community permissiveness, the fraction of a mixed microbial community that can receive self-transmissible conjugal plasmids, has been studied, the intrinsic ability of a community to mobilize plasmids that lack conjugation systems is unexplored. Here, we present a novel framework and experimental method to estimate the mobilization potential of mixed communities. We compare the transfer frequency of a mobilizable plasmid to that of a mobilizing and conjugal plasmid measured for a model strain and for the assayed community. With Pseudomonas putida carrying the gfp-tagged mobilizable RSF1010 plasmid as donor strain, we conducted solid surface mating experiments with either a P. putida strain carrying the mobilizing plasmid RP4 or a model bacterial community that was extracted from the inner walls of a domestic shower conduit. Additionally, we estimated the permissiveness of the same community for RP4 using P. putida as donor strain. The permissiveness of the model community for RP4 (at 1.16x10-4 transconjugants per recipient (T/R)) was similar to that previously measured for soil microbial communities. RSF1010 was mobilized by the model community at a frequency of 1.16x10-5 T/R, only one order of magnitude lower than its permissiveness to RP4. This mobilization frequency is unexpectedly high considering that (i) mobilization requires the presence of mobilizing conjugal plasmids within the permissive fraction of the recipients; (ii) in pure culture experiments with P. putida retromobilization of RSF1010 through RP4 only took place in approximately half of the donors receiving the conjugal plasmid in the first step. Further work is needed to establish how plasmid mobilization potential varies within and across microbial communities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number730
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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