Integron-associated gene cassettes in Halifax Harbour

assessment of a mobile gene pool in marine sediments

J. E. Koenig, Yan Boucher, Robert L. Charlebois, Camilla Nesbø, Olga Zhaxybayeva, Eric Bapteste, Matthew Spencer, Michael J. Joss, H. W. Stokes, W. F. Doolittle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Citations (Scopus)


The integron/gene cassette systems identified in bacteria comprise a class of genetic elements that allow adaptation by acquisition of gene cassettes. Integron gene cassettes have been shown to facilitate the spread of drug resistance in human pathogens but their role outside a clinical setting has not been explored extensively. We sequenced 2145 integron gene cassettes from four marine sediment samples taken from the vicinity of Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada, increasing the number of gene cassettes obtained from environmental microbial communities by 10-fold. Sequence analyses reveals that the majority of these cassettes encode novel proteins and that this study is consistent with previous claims of high cassette diversity as we estimate a Chao1 diversity index of ∼3000 cassettes from these samples. The functional distribution of environmental cassettes recovered in this study, when compared with that of cassettes from the only other source with significant sampling (Vibrio genomes) suggests that alternate selection regimes might be acting on these two gene pools. The majority of cassettes recovered in this study encode novel, unknown proteins. In instances where we obtained multiple alleles of a novel protein we demonstrate that non-synonymous versus synonymous substitution rates ratios suggest relaxed selection. Cassette-encoded proteins with known homologues represent a variety of functions and prevalent among these are isochorismatases; proteins involved in iron scavenging. Phylogenetic analysis of these isochorismatases as well as of cassette-encoded acetyltransferases reveals a patchy distribution, suggesting multiple sources for the origin of these cassettes. Finally, the two most environmentally similar sample sites considered in this study display the greatest overlap of cassette types, consistent with the hypothesis that cassette genes encode adaptive proteins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1024-1038
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008

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