Indexed on: 17 Apr '12Published on: 17 Apr '12Published in: Journal of bacteriology
Integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs, also known as conjugative transposons) are mobile elements that are found integrated in a host genome and can excise and transfer to recipient cells via conjugation. ICEs and conjugative plasmids are found in many bacteria and are important agents of horizontal gene transfer and microbial evolution. Conjugative elements are capable of self-transfer and also capable of mobilizing other DNA elements that are not able to self-transfer. Plasmids that can be mobilized by conjugative elements are generally thought to contain an origin of transfer (oriT), from which mobilization initiates, and to encode a mobilization protein (Mob, a relaxase) that nicks a site in oriT and covalently attaches to the DNA to be transferred. Plasmids that do not have both an oriT and a cognate mob are thought to be nonmobilizable. We found that Bacillus subtilis carrying the integrative and conjugative element ICEBs1 can transfer three different plasmids to recipient bacteria at high frequencies. Strikingly, these plasmids do not have dedicated mobilization-oriT functions. Plasmid mobilization required conjugation proteins of ICEBs1, including the putative coupling protein. In contrast, plasmid mobilization did not require the ICEBs1 conjugative relaxase or cotransfer of ICEBs1, indicating that the putative coupling protein likely interacts with the plasmid replicative relaxase and directly targets the plasmid DNA to the ICEBs1 conjugation apparatus. These results blur the current categorization of mobilizable and nonmobilizable plasmids and indicate that conjugative elements play a role in horizontal gene transfer even more significant than previously recognized.