Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is a main driving force of bacterial evolution and innovation. This phenomenon was long thought to be marginal in mycoplasmas, a large group of self-replicating bacteria characterized by minute genomes as a result of successive gene losses during evolution. Recent comparative genomic analyses challenged this paradigm, but the occurrence of chromosomal exchanges had never been formally addressed in mycoplasmas. Here, we demonstrated the conjugal transfer of large chromosomal regions within and among ruminant mycoplasma species, with the incorporation of the incoming DNA occurring by homologous recombination into the recipient chromosome. By combining classical mating experiments with high-throughput next-generation sequencing, we documented the transfer of almost every position of the mycoplasma chromosome. Mycoplasma conjugation relies on the occurrence of an integrative conjugative element (ICE) in at least one parent cell. While ICE propagates horizontally from ICE-positive to ICE-negative cells, chromosomal transfers (CTs) occurred in the opposite direction, from ICE-negative to ICE-positive cells, independently of ICE movement. These findings challenged the classical mechanisms proposed for other bacteria in which conjugative CTs are driven by conjugative elements, bringing into the spotlight a new means for rapid mycoplasma innovation. Overall, they radically change our current views concerning the evolution of mycoplasmas, with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
Horizontal gene transfers (HGT) shape bacterial genomes and are key contributors to microbial diversity and innovation. One main mechanism involves conjugation, a process that allows the simultaneous transfer of significant amounts of DNA upon cell-to-cell contact. Recognizing and deciphering conjugal mechanisms are thus essential in understanding the impact of gene flux on bacterial evolution. We addressed this issue in mycoplasmas, the smallest and simplest self-replicating bacteria. In these organisms, HGT was long thought to be marginal. We showed here that nearly every position of the Mycoplasma agalactiae chromosome could be transferred via conjugation, using an unconventional mechanism. The transfer involved DNA blocks containing up to 80 genes that were incorporated into the host chromosome by homologous recombination. These findings radically change our views concerning mycoplasma evolution and adaptation with particularly far-reaching implications given that over 50 species are human or animal pathogens.
Mollicutes is a class of parasitic bacteria that have evolved from a common Firmicutes ancestor mostly by massive genome reduction. With genomes under 1 Mbp in size, most Mollicutes species retain the capacity to replicate and grow autonomously. The major goal of this work was to identify the minimal set of proteins that can sustain ribosome biogenesis and translation of the genetic code in these bacteria. Using the experimentally validated genes from the model bacteria Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis as input, genes encoding proteins of the core translation machinery were predicted in 39 distinct Mollicutes species, 33 of which are culturable. The set of 260 input genes encodes proteins involved in ribosome biogenesis, tRNA maturation and aminoacylation, as well as proteins cofactors required for mRNA translation and RNA decay. A core set of 104 of these proteins is found in all species analyzed. Genes encoding proteins involved in post-translational modifications of ribosomal proteins and translation cofactors, post-transcriptional modifications of t+rRNA, in ribosome assembly and RNA degradation are the most frequently lost. As expected, genes coding for aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases, ribosomal proteins and initiation, elongation and termination factors are the most persistent (i.e. conserved in a majority of genomes). Enzymes introducing nucleotides modifications in the anticodon loop of tRNA, in helix 44 of 16S rRNA and in helices 69 and 80 of 23S rRNA, all essential for decoding and facilitating peptidyl transfer, are maintained in all species. Reconstruction of genome evolution in Mollicutes revealed that, beside many gene losses, occasional gains by horizontal gene transfer also occurred. This analysis not only showed that slightly different solutions for preserving a functional, albeit minimal, protein synthetizing machinery have emerged in these successive rounds of reductive evolution but also has broad implications in guiding the reconstruction of a minimal cell by synthetic biology approaches.
In all cells, proteins are synthesized from the message encoded by mRNA using complex machineries involving many proteins and RNAs. In this process, named translation, the ribosome plays a central role. The elements involved in both ribosome biogenesis and its function are extremely conserved in all organisms from the simplest bacteria to mammalian cells. Most of the 260 known proteins involved in translation have been identified and studied in the bacteria Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis, two common cellular models in biology. However, comparative genomics has shown that the translation protein set can be much smaller. This is true for bacteria belonging to the class Mollicutes that are characterized by reduced genomes and hence considered as models for minimal cells. Using homology inference approach and expert analyses, we identified the translation apparatus proteins for 39 of these organisms. Although striking variations were found from one group of species to another, some Mollicutes species require half as many proteins as E. coli or B. subtilis. This analysis allowed us to determine a set of proteins necessary for translation in Mollicutes and define the translation apparatus that would be required in a cellular chassis mimicking a minimal bacterial cell.
Among challenges that hamper reaping the benefits of genome assembly are both unfinished assemblies and the ensuing experimental costs. First, numerous software solutions for genome de novo assembly are available, each having its advantages and drawbacks, without clear guidelines as to how to choose among them. Second, these solutions produce draft assemblies that often require a resource intensive finishing phase.
In this paper we address these two aspects by developing Mix , a tool that mixes two or more draft assemblies, without relying on a reference genome and having the goal to reduce contig fragmentation and thus speed-up genome finishing. The proposed algorithm builds an extension graph where vertices represent extremities of contigs and edges represent existing alignments between these extremities. These alignment edges are used for contig extension. The resulting output assembly corresponds to a set of paths in the extension graph that maximizes the cumulative contig length.
We evaluate the performance of Mix on bacterial NGS data from the GAGE-B study and apply it to newly sequenced Mycoplasma genomes. Resulting final assemblies demonstrate a significant improvement in the overall assembly quality. In particular, Mix is consistent by providing better overall quality results even when the choice is guided solely by standard assembly statistics, as is the case for de novo projects.
Mix is implemented in Python and is available at https://github.com/cbib/MIX, novel data for our Mycoplasma study is available at http://services.cbib.u-bordeaux2.fr/mix/.
We report here the draft genome sequences of Mycoplasma auris and Mycoplasma yeatsii, two species commonly isolated from the external ear canal of Caprinae.
We report here the draft genome sequences of Mycoplasma alkalescens, Mycoplasma arginini, and Mycoplasma bovigenitalium. These three species are regularly isolated from bovine clinical specimens, although their role in disease is unclear.
Mycoplasma putrefaciens is one of the etiologic agents of contagious agalactia in goats. We report herein the complete genome sequence of Mycoplasma putrefaciens strain 9231.
The bacterium Mycoplasma agalactiae is responsible for contagious agalactia (CA) in small domestic ruminants, a syndrome listed by the World Organization for Animal Health and responsible for severe damage to the dairy industry. Recently, we frequently isolated this pathogen from lung lesions of ibexes during a mortality episode in the French Alps. This situation was unusual in terms of host specificity and tissue tropism, raising the question of M. agalactiae emergence in wildlife. To address this issue, the ibex isolates were characterized using a combination of approaches that included antigenic profiles, molecular typing, optical mapping, and whole-genome sequencing. Genome analyses showed the presence of a new, large prophage containing 35 coding sequences (CDS) that was detected in most but not all ibex strains and has a homolog in Mycoplasma conjunctivae, a species causing keratoconjunctivitis in wild ungulates. This and the presence in all strains of large integrated conjugative elements suggested highly dynamic genomes. Nevertheless, M. agalactiae strains circulating in the ibex population were shown to be highly related, most likely originating from a single parental clone that has also spread to another wild ungulate species of the same geographical area, the chamois. These strains clearly differ from strains described in Europe so far, including those found nearby, before CA eradication a few years ago. While M. agalactiae pathogenicity in ibexes remains unclear, our data showed the emergence of atypical strains in Alpine wild ungulates, raising the question of a role for the wild fauna as a potential reservoir of pathogenic mycoplasmas.
The evolution of mycoplasmas from a common ancestor with Firmicutes has been characterized not only by genome down-sizing but also by horizontal gene transfer between mycoplasma species sharing a common host. The mechanisms of these gene transfers remain unclear because our knowledge of the mycoplasma mobile genetic elements is limited. In particular, only a few plasmids have been described within the Mycoplasma genus.
We have shown that several species of ruminant mycoplasmas carry plasmids that are members of a large family of elements and replicate via a rolling-circle mechanism. All plasmids were isolated from species that either belonged or were closely related to the Mycoplasma mycoides cluster; none was from the Mycoplasma bovis-Mycoplasma agalactiae group. Twenty one plasmids were completely sequenced, named and compared with each other and with the five mycoplasma plasmids previously reported. All plasmids share similar size and genetic organization, and present a mosaic structure. A peculiar case is that of the plasmid pMyBK1 from M. yeatsii; it is larger in size and is predicted to be mobilizable. Its origin of replication and replication protein were identified. In addition, pMyBK1 derivatives were shown to replicate in various species of the M. mycoides cluster, and therefore hold considerable promise for developing gene vectors. The phylogenetic analysis of these plasmids confirms the uniqueness of pMyBK1 and indicates that the other mycoplasma plasmids cluster together, apart from the related replicons found in phytoplasmas and in species of the clade Firmicutes.
Our results unraveled a totally new picture of mycoplasma plasmids. Although they probably play a limited role in the gene exchanges that participate in mycoplasma evolution, they are abundant in some species. Evidence for the occurrence of frequent genetic recombination strongly suggests they are transmitted between species sharing a common host or niche.
Mycoplasma,Plasmid,Replication,Rep protein,Gene transfer,Evolution,Expression vector,Mycoplasma mycoides,Mycoplasma capricolum,Mycoplasma yeatsii
Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides “Small Colony” (MmmSC) is responsible for contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) in bovidae, a notifiable disease to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Although its origin is not documented, the disease was known in Europe in 1773. It reached nearly world-wide distribution in the 19th century through the cattle trade and was eradicated from most continents by stamping-out policies. During the 20th century it persisted in Africa, and it reappeared sporadically in Southern Europe. Yet, classical epidemiology studies failed to explain the re-occurrence of the disease in Europe in the 1990s. The objectives of this study were to obtain a precise phylogeny of this pathogen, reconstruct its evolutionary history, estimate the date of its emergence, and determine the origin of the most recent European outbreaks. A large-scale genomic approach based on next-generation sequencing technologies was applied to construct a robust phylogeny of this extremely monomorphic pathogen by using 20 representative strains of various geographical origins. Sixty two polymorphic genes of the MmmSC core genome were selected, representing 83601 bp in total and resulting in 139 SNPs within the 20 strains. A robust phylogeny was obtained that identified a lineage specific to European strains; African strains were scattered in various branches. Bayesian analysis allowed dating the most recent common ancestor for MmmSC around 1700. The strains circulating in Sub-Saharan Africa today, however, were shown to descend from a strain that existed around 1810. MmmSC emerged recently, about 300 years ago, and was most probably exported from Europe to other continents, including Africa, during the 19th century. Its diversity is now greater in Africa, where CBPP is enzootic, than in Europe, where outbreaks occurred sporadically until 1999 and where CBPP may now be considered eradicated unless MmmSC remains undetected.
F1F0 ATPases have been identified in most bacteria, including mycoplasmas which have very small genomes associated with a host-dependent lifestyle. In addition to the typical operon of eight genes encoding genuine F1F0 ATPase (Type 1), we identified related clusters of seven genes in many mycoplasma species. Four of the encoded proteins have predicted structures similar to the α, β, γ and ε subunits of F1 ATPases and could form an F1-like ATPase. The other three proteins display no similarity to any other known proteins. Two of these proteins are probably located in the membrane, as they have three and twelve predicted transmembrane helices. Phylogenomic studies identified two types of F1-like ATPase clusters, Type 2 and Type 3, characterized by a rapid evolution of sequences with the conservation of structural features. Clusters encoding Type 2 and Type 3 ATPases were assumed to originate from the Hominis group of mycoplasmas. We suggest that Type 3 ATPase clusters may spread to other phylogenetic groups by horizontal gene transfer between mycoplasmas in the same host, based on phylogeny and genomic context. Functional analyses in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides showed that the Type 3 cluster genes were organized into an operon. Proteomic analyses demonstrated that the seven encoded proteins were produced during growth in axenic media. Mutagenesis and complementation studies demonstrated an association of the Type 3 cluster with a major ATPase activity of membrane fractions. Thus, despite their tendency toward genome reduction, mycoplasmas have evolved and exchanged specific F1-like ATPases with no known equivalent in other bacteria. We propose a model, in which the F1-like structure is associated with a hypothetical X0 sector located in the membrane of mycoplasma cells.
Substitution matrices are key parameters for the alignment of two protein sequences, and consequently for most comparative genomics studies. The composition of biological sequences can vary importantly between species and groups of species, and classical matrices such as those in the BLOSUM series fail to accurately estimate alignment scores and statistical significance with sequences sharing marked compositional biases.
We present a general and simple methodology to build matrices that are especially fitted to the compositional bias of proteins. Our approach is inspired from the one used to build the BLOSUM matrices and is based on learning substitution and amino acid frequencies on real sequences with the corresponding compositional bias. We applied it to the large scale comparison of Mollicute AT-rich genomes. The new matrix, MOLLI60, was used to predict pairwise orthology relationships, as well as homolog families among 24 Mollicute genomes. We show that this new matrix enables to better discriminate between true and false orthologs and improves the clustering of homologous proteins, with respect to the use of the classical matrix BLOSUM62.
We show in this paper that well-fitted matrices can improve the predictions of orthologous and homologous relationships among proteins with a similar compositional bias. With the ever-increasing number of sequenced genomes, our approach could prove valuable in numerous comparative studies focusing on atypical genomes.
The Mycoplasma mycoides cluster consists of five species or subspecies that are ruminant pathogens. One subspecies, Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides Small Colony (MmmSC), is the causative agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia. Its very close relative, Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. capri (Mmc), is a more ubiquitous pathogen in small ruminants causing mastitis, arthritis, keratitis, pneumonia and septicaemia and is also found as saprophyte in the ear canal. To understand the genetics underlying these phenotypic differences, we compared the MmmSC PG1 type strain genome, which was already available, with the genome of an Mmc field strain (95010) that was sequenced in this study. We also compared the 95010 genome with the recently published genome of another Mmc strain (GM12) to evaluate Mmc strain diversity.
The MmmSC PG1 genome is 1,212 kbp and that of Mmc 95010 is ca. 58 kbp shorter. Most of the sequences present in PG1 but not 95010 are highly repeated Insertion Sequences (three types of IS) and large duplicated DNA fragments. The 95010 genome contains five types of IS, present in fewer copies than in PG1, and two copies of an integrative conjugative element. These mobile genetic elements have played a key role in genome plasticity, leading to inversions of large DNA fragments. Comparison of the two genomes suggested a marked decay of the PG1 genome that seems to be correlated with a greater number of IS. The repertoire of gene families encoding surface proteins is smaller in PG1. Several genes involved in polysaccharide metabolism and protein degradation are also absent from, or degraded in, PG1.
The genome of MmmSC PG1 is larger than that of Mmc 95010, its very close relative, but has less coding capacity. This is the result of large genetic rearrangements due to mobile elements that have also led to marked gene decay. This is consistent with a non-adaptative genomic complexity theory, allowing duplications or pseudogenes to be maintained in the absence of adaptive selection that would lead to purifying selection and genome streamlining over longer evolutionary times. These findings also suggest that MmmSC only recently adapted to its bovine host.
While the genomic era is accumulating a tremendous amount of data, the question of how genomics can describe a bacterial species remains to be fully addressed. The recent sequencing of the genome of the Mycoplasma agalactiae type strain has challenged our general view on mycoplasmas by suggesting that these simple bacteria are able to exchange significant amount of genetic material via horizontal gene transfer. Yet, events that are shaping mycoplasma genomes and that are underlining diversity within this species have to be fully evaluated. For this purpose, we compared two strains that are representative of the genetic spectrum encountered in this species: the type strain PG2 which genome is already available and a field strain, 5632, which was fully sequenced and annotated in this study.
The two genomes differ by ca. 130 kbp with that of 5632 being the largest (1006 kbp). The make up of this additional genetic material mainly corresponds (i) to mobile genetic elements and (ii) to expanded repertoire of gene families that encode putative surface proteins and display features of highly-variable systems. More specifically, three entire copies of a previously described integrative conjugative element are found in 5632 that accounts for ca. 80 kbp. Other mobile genetic elements, found in 5632 but not in PG2, are the more classical insertion sequences which are related to those found in two other ruminant pathogens, M. bovis and M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC. In 5632, repertoires of gene families encoding surface proteins are larger due to gene duplication. Comparative proteomic analyses of the two strains indicate that the additional coding capacity of 5632 affects the overall architecture of the surface and suggests the occurrence of new phase variable systems based on single nucleotide polymorphisms.
Overall, comparative analyses of two M. agalactiae strains revealed a very dynamic genome which structure has been shaped by gene flow among ruminant mycoplasmas and expansion-reduction of gene repertoires encoding surface proteins, the expression of which is driven by localized genetic micro-events.
Mycoplasma agalactiae, an important pathogen of small ruminants, exhibits a very versatile surface architecture by switching multiple, related lipoproteins (Vpmas) on and off. In the type strain, PG2, Vpma phase variation is generated by a cluster of six vpma genes that undergo frequent DNA rearrangements via site-specific recombination. To further comprehend the degree of diversity that can be generated at the M. agalactiae surface, the vpma gene repertoire of a field strain, 5632, was analyzed and shown to contain an extended repertoire of 23 vpma genes distributed between two loci located 250 kbp apart. Loci I and II include 16 and 7 vpma genes, respectively, with all vpma genes of locus II being duplicated at locus I. Several Vpmas displayed a chimeric structure suggestive of homologous recombination, and a global proteomic analysis further indicated that at least 13 of the 16 Vpmas can be expressed by the 5632 strain. Because a single promoter is present in each vpma locus, concomitant Vpma expression can occur in a strain with duplicated loci. Consequently, the number of possible surface combinations is much higher for strain 5632 than for the type strain. Finally, our data suggested that insertion sequences are likely to be involved in 5632 vpma locus duplication at a remote chromosomal position. The role of such mobile genetic elements in chromosomal shuffling of genes encoding major surface components may have important evolutionary and epidemiological consequences for pathogens, such as mycoplasmas, that have a reduced genome and no cell wall.
Mycoplasma hominis is an opportunistic human mycoplasma. Two other pathogenic human species, M. genitalium and Ureaplasma parvum, reside within the same natural niche as M. hominis: the urogenital tract. These three species have overlapping, but distinct, pathogenic roles. They have minimal genomes and, thus, reduced metabolic capabilities characterized by distinct energy-generating pathways. Analysis of the M. hominis PG21 genome sequence revealed that it is the second smallest genome among self-replicating free living organisms (665,445 bp, 537 coding sequences (CDSs)). Five clusters of genes were predicted to have undergone horizontal gene transfer (HGT) between M. hominis and the phylogenetically distant U. parvum species. We reconstructed M. hominis metabolic pathways from the predicted genes, with particular emphasis on energy-generating pathways. The Embden–Meyerhoff–Parnas pathway was incomplete, with a single enzyme absent. We identified the three proteins constituting the arginine dihydrolase pathway. This pathway was found essential to promote growth in vivo. The predicted presence of dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase suggested that arginine catabolism is more complex than initially described. This enzyme may have been acquired by HGT from non-mollicute bacteria. Comparison of the three minimal mollicute genomes showed that 247 CDSs were common to all three genomes, whereas 220 CDSs were specific to M. hominis, 172 CDSs were specific to M. genitalium, and 280 CDSs were specific to U. parvum. Within these species-specific genes, two major sets of genes could be identified: one including genes involved in various energy-generating pathways, depending on the energy source used (glucose, urea, or arginine) and another involved in cytadherence and virulence. Therefore, a minimal mycoplasma cell, not including cytadherence and virulence-related genes, could be envisaged containing a core genome (247 genes), plus a set of genes required for providing energy. For M. hominis, this set would include 247+9 genes, resulting in a theoretical minimal genome of 256 genes.
Mycoplasma hominis, M. genitalium, and Ureaplasma parvum are human pathogenic bacteria that colonize the urogenital tract. They have minimal genomes, and thus have a minimal metabolic capacity. However, they have distinct energy-generating pathways and distinct pathogenic roles. We compared the genomes of these three human pathogen minimal species, providing further insight into the composition of hypothetical minimal gene sets needed for life. To this end, we sequenced the whole M. hominis genome and reconstructed its energy-generating pathways from gene predictions. Its unusual major energy-producing pathway through arginine hydrolysis was confirmed in both genome analyses and in vivo assays. Our findings suggest that M. hominis and U. parvum underwent genetic exchange, probably while sharing a common host. We proposed a set of genes likely to represent a minimal genome. For M. hominis, this minimal genome, not including cytadherence and virulence-related genes, can be defined comprising the 247 genes shared by the three minimal genital mollicutes, combined with a set of nine genes needed for energy production for cell metabolism. This study provides insight for the synthesis of artificial genomes.
Mycoplasma mycoides subspecies mycoides small colony (SC) is the aetiologic agent of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP), a respiratory disease causing important losses in cattle production. The publication of the genome sequence of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC should facilitate the identification of putative virulence factors. However, real progress in the study of molecular mechanisms of pathogenicity also requires efficient molecular tools for gene inactivation. In the present study, we have developed a transposon-based approach for the random mutagenesis of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC. A PCR-based screening assay enabled the characterization of several mutants with knockouts of genes potentially involved in pathogenicity. The initial transposon was further improved by combining it with the transposon γδ TnpR/res recombination system to allow the production of unmarked mutations. Using this approach, we isolated a mutant free of antibiotic-resistance genes, in which the gene encoding the main lipoprotein LppQ was disrupted. The mutant was found to express only residual amounts of the truncated N-terminal end of LppQ. This approach opens the way to study virulence factors and pathogen-host interactions of M. mycoides subsp. mycoides SC and to develop new, genetically defined vaccine strains.
Mycoplasmas are commonly described as the simplest self-replicating organisms, whose evolution was mainly characterized by genome downsizing with a proposed evolutionary scenario similar to that of obligate intracellular bacteria such as insect endosymbionts. Thus far, analysis of mycoplasma genomes indicates a low level of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) implying that DNA acquisition is strongly limited in these minimal bacteria. In this study, the genome of the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae was sequenced. Comparative genomic data and phylogenetic tree reconstruction revealed that ∼18% of its small genome (877,438 bp) has undergone HGT with the phylogenetically distinct mycoides cluster, which is composed of significant ruminant pathogens. HGT involves genes often found as clusters, several of which encode lipoproteins that usually play an important role in mycoplasma–host interaction. A decayed form of a conjugative element also described in a member of the mycoides cluster was found in the M. agalactiae genome, suggesting that HGT may have occurred by mobilizing a related genetic element. The possibility of HGT events among other mycoplasmas was evaluated with the available sequenced genomes. Our data indicate marginal levels of HGT among Mycoplasma species except for those described above and, to a lesser extent, for those observed in between the two bird pathogens, M. gallisepticum and M. synoviae. This first description of large-scale HGT among mycoplasmas sharing the same ecological niche challenges the generally accepted evolutionary scenario in which gene loss is the main driving force of mycoplasma evolution. The latter clearly differs from that of other bacteria with small genomes, particularly obligate intracellular bacteria that are isolated within host cells. Consequently, mycoplasmas are not only able to subvert complex hosts but presumably have retained sexual competence, a trait that may prevent them from genome stasis and contribute to adaptation to new hosts.
Mycoplasmas are cell wall–lacking prokaryotes that evolved from ancestors common to Gram-positive bacteria by way of massive losses of genetic material. With their minimal genome, mycoplasmas are considered to be the simplest free-living organisms, yet several species are successful pathogens of man and animal. In this study, we challenged the commonly accepted view in which mycoplasma evolution is driven only by genome down-sizing. Indeed, we showed that a significant amount of genes underwent horizontal transfer among different mycoplasma species that share the same ruminant hosts. In these species, the occurrence of a genetic element that can promote DNA transfer via cell-to-cell contact suggests that some mycoplasmas may have retained or acquired sexual competence. Transferred genes were found to encode proteins that are likely to be associated with mycoplasma–host interactions. Sharing genetic resources via horizontal gene transfer may provide mycoplasmas with a means for adapting to new niches or to new hosts and for avoiding irreversible genome erosion.
Antimicrobial peptides are widely distributed in nature, and in vertebrates, they play a key function in the innate immune defense system. It is generally agreed that these molecules may provide new antibiotics with therapeutic value. However, there are still many unsolved questions regarding the mechanisms underlying their antimicrobial activity as well as the mechanisms of resistance evolved by microorganisms against these molecules. The second point was addressed in this study. After determining the activity of 10 antimicrobial peptides against Mycoplasma pulmonis, a murine respiratory pathogen, the development of resistance was investigated. Following in vitro selection using subinhibitory concentrations of peptides, clones of this bacterium showing increased resistance to melittin or gramicidin D were obtained. For some of the clones, a cross-resistance was observed between these two peptides, in spite of their deep structural differences, and also with tetracycline. A proteomic analysis suggested that the stress response in these clones was constitutively activated, and this was confirmed by finding mutations in the hrcA gene; in mycoplasmas, bacteria which lack alternative sigma factors, the HrcA protein is supposed to play a key role as a negative regulator of heat shock proteins. By complementation of the hrcA mutants with the wild-type gene, the initial MICs of melittin and gramicidin D decreased to values close to the initial ones. This indicates that the resistance of M. pulmonis to these two antimicrobial peptides could result from a stress response involving HrcA-regulated genes.
Replicative oriC plasmids were recently developed for several mollicutes, including three Mycoplasma species belonging to the mycoides cluster that are responsible for bovine and caprine diseases: Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides small-colony type, Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides large-colony type, and Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum. In this study, oriC plasmids were evaluated in M. capricolum subsp. capricolum as genetic tools for (i) expression of heterologous proteins and (ii) gene inactivation by homologous recombination. The reporter gene lacZ, encoding β-galactosidase, and the gene encoding spiralin, an abundant surface lipoprotein of the related mollicute Spiroplasma citri, were successfully expressed. Functional Escherichia coli β-galactosidase was detected in transformed Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum cells despite noticeable codon usage differences. The expression of spiralin in M. capricolum subsp. capricolum was assessed by colony and Western blotting. Accessibility of this protein at the cell surface and its partition into the Triton X-114 detergent phase suggest a correct maturation of the spiralin precursor. The expression of a heterologous lipoprotein in a mycoplasma raises potentially interesting applications, e.g., the use of these bacteria as live vaccines. Targeted inactivation of gene lppA encoding lipoprotein A was achieved in M. capricolum subsp. capricolum with plasmids harboring a replication origin derived from S. citri. Our results suggest that the selection of the infrequent events of homologous recombination could be enhanced by the use of oriC plasmids derived from related mollicute species. Mycoplasma gene inactivation opens the way to functional genomics in a group of bacteria for which a large wealth of genome data are already available and steadily growing.
Recently, artificial oriC plasmids containing the chromosomal dnaA gene and surrounding DnaA box sequences were obtained for the mollicutes Spiroplasma citri and Mycoplasma pulmonis. In order to study the specificity of these plasmids among mollicutes, a set of similar oriC plasmids was developed for three mycoplasmas belonging to the mycoides cluster, Mycoplasma mycoides subsp. mycoides LC (MmmLC), M.mycoides subsp. mycoides SC (MmmSC) and Mycoplasma capricolum subsp. capricolum. Mycoplasmas from the mycoides cluster, S.citri and M.pulmonis were used as recipients for transformation experiments by homologous and heterologous oriC plasmids. All five mollicutes were successfully transformed by homologous plasmids, suggesting that the dnaA gene region represents the functional replication origin of the mollicute chromosomes. However, the ability of mollicutes to replicate heterologous oriC plasmids was found to vary noticeably with the species. For example, the oriC plasmid from M.capricolum did not replicate in the closely related species MmmSC and MmmLC. In contrast, plasmids harbouring the oriC from MmmSC, MmmLC and the more distant species S.citri were all found to replicate in M.capricolum. Our results suggest that the cis-elements present in oriC sequences are not the only determinants of this host specificity.
Mycoplasma pulmonis is a natural rodent pathogen, considered a privileged model for studying respiratory mycoplasmosis. The complete genome of this bacterium, which belongs to the class Mollicutes, has recently been sequenced, but studying the role of specific genes requires improved genetic tools. In silico comparative analysis of sequenced mollicute genomes indicated the lack of conservation of gene order in the region containing the predicted origin of replication (oriC) and the existence, in most of the mollicute genomes examined, of putative DnaA boxes lying upstream and downstream from the dnaA gene. The predicted M. pulmonis oriC region was shown to be functional after cloning it into an artificial plasmid and after transformation of the mycoplasma, which was obtained with a frequency of 3 × 10−6 transformants/CFU/μg of plasmid DNA. However, after a few in vitro passages, this plasmid integrated into the chromosomal oriC region. Reduction of this oriC region by subcloning experiments to the region either upstream or downstream from dnaA resulted in plasmids that failed to replicate in M. pulmonis, except when these two intergenic regions were cloned with the tetM determinant as a spacer in between them. An internal fragment of the M. pulmonis hemolysin A gene (hlyA) was cloned into this oriC plasmid, and the resulting construct was used to transform M. pulmonis. Targeted integration of this genetic element into the chromosomal hlyA by a single crossing over, which results in the disruption of the gene, could be documented. These mycoplasmal oriC plasmids may therefore become valuable tools for investigating the roles of specific genes, including those potentially implicated in pathogenesis.