Variable plasmid fitness effects and mobile genetic element dynamics across Pseudomonas species

A Kottara, JPJ Hall, E Harrison, MA Brockhurst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mobile genetic elements (MGE) such as plasmids and transposons mobilise genes within and between species, playing a crucial role in bacterial evolution via horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Currently, we lack data on variation in MGE dynamics across bacterial host species. We tracked the dynamics of a large conjugative plasmid, pQBR103, and its Tn5042 mercury resistance transposon, in five diverse Pseudomonas species in environments with and without mercury selection. Plasmid fitness effects and stability varied extensively between host species and environments, as did the propensity for chromosomal capture of the Tn5042 mercury resistance transposon associated with loss of the plasmid. Whereas Pseudomonas fluorescens and Pseudomonas savastanoi stably maintained the plasmid in both environments, the plasmid was highly unstable in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Pseudomonas putida, where plasmid-free genotypes with Tn5042 captured to the chromosome invaded to higher frequency under mercury selection. These data confirm that plasmid stability is dependent upon the specific genetic interaction of the plasmid and host chromosome rather than being a property of plasmids alone, and moreover imply that MGE dynamics in diverse natural communities are likely to be complex and driven by a subset of species capable of stably maintaining plasmids that would then act as hubs of HGT.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfix172
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Bacteria plasmid coevolution
  • Conjugative plasmids
  • Experimental evolution
  • horizontal gene transfer
  • Mobile genetic elements


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