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Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a key driver of bacterial evolution via transmission of genetic materials across taxa. Class 1 integrons are genetic elements that correlate strongly with anthropogenic pollution and contribute to the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes via HGT. Despite their significance to human health, there is a shortage of robust, culture-free surveillance technologies for identifying uncultivated environmental taxa that harbor class 1 integrons. We developed a modified version of epicPCR (emulsion, paired isolation, and concatenation polymerase chain reaction (PCR)) that links class 1 integrons amplified from single bacterial cells to taxonomic markers from the same cells in emulsified aqueous droplets. Using this single-cell genomic approach and Nanopore sequencing, we successfully assigned class 1 integron gene cassette arrays containing mostly AMR genes to their hosts in coastal water samples that were affected by pollution. Our work presents the first application of epicPCR for targeting variable, multigene loci of interest. We also identified the Rhizobacter genus as novel hosts of class 1 integrons. These findings establish epicPCR as a powerful tool for linking taxa to class 1 integrons in environmental bacterial communities and offer the potential to direct mitigation efforts toward hotspots of class 1 integron-mediated dissemination of AMR.
- antimicrobial resistance
- class 1 integron gene cassettes
- horizontal gene transfer
- mobile genetic elements
- environmental bacterial hosts
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