Gene Cassette PCR: sequence-Independent Recovery of Entire Genes from Environmental DNA

H. W. Stokes*, Andrew J. Holmes, Blair S. Nield, Marita P. Holley, K. M Helena Nevalainen, Bridget C. Mabbutt, Michael R. Gillings

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    156 Citations (Scopus)


    The vast majority of bacteria in the environment have yet to be cultured. Consequently, a major proportion of both genetic diversity within known gene families and an unknown number of novel gene families reside in these uncultured organisms. Isolation of these genes is limited by lack of sequence information. Where such sequence data exist, PCR directed at conserved sequence motifs recovers only partial genes. Here we outline a strategy for recovering complete open reading frames from environmental DNA samples. PCR assays were designed to target the 59-base element family of recombination sites that flank gene cassettes associated with integrons. Using such assays, diverse gene cassettes could be amplified from the vast majority of environmental DNA samples tested. These gene cassettes contained complete open reading frames, the majority of which were associated with ribosome binding sites. Novel genes with clear homologies to phosphotransferase, DNA glycosylase, methyl transferase, and thiotransferase genes were identified. However, the majority of amplified gene cassettes contained open reading frames with no identifiable homologues in databases. Accumulation analysis of the gene cassettes amplified from soil samples showed no signs of saturation, and soil samples taken at 1-m intervals along transects demonstrated different amplification profiles. Taken together, the genetic novelty, steep accumulation curves, and spatial heterogeneity of genes recovered show that this method taps into a vast pool of unexploited genetic diversity. The success of this approach indicates that mobile gene cassettes and, by inference, integrons are widespread in natural environments and are likely to contribute significantly to bacterial diversity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5240-5246
    Number of pages7
    JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - 2001


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