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1.  Environmental Factors Influencing Gene Transfer Agent (GTA) Mediated Transduction in the Subtropical Ocean 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43506.
Microbial genomic sequence analyses have indicated widespread horizontal gene transfer (HGT). However, an adequate mechanism accounting for the ubiquity of HGT has been lacking. Recently, high frequencies of interspecific gene transfer have been documented, catalyzed by Gene Transfer Agents (GTAs) of marine α-Proteobacteria. It has been proposed that the presence of bacterial genes in highly purified viral metagenomes may be due to GTAs. However, factors influencing GTA-mediated gene transfer in the environment have not yet been determined. Several genomically sequenced strains containing complete GTA sequences similar to Rhodobacter capsulatus (RcGTA, type strain) were screened to ascertain if they produced putative GTAs, and at what abundance. Five of nine marine strains screened to date spontaneously produced virus-like particles (VLP's) in stationary phase. Three of these strains have demonstrated gene transfer activity, two of which were documented by this lab. These two strains Roseovarius nubinhibens ISM and Nitratireductor 44B9s, were utilized to produce GTAs designated RnGTA and NrGTA and gene transfer activity was verified in culture. Cell-free preparations of purified RnGTA and NrGTA particles from marked donor strains were incubated with natural microbial assemblages to determine the level of GTA-mediated gene transfer. In conjunction, several ambient environmental parameters were measured including lysogeny indicated by prophage induction. GTA production in culture systems indicated that approximately half of the strains produced GTA-like particles and maximal GTA counts ranged from 10–30% of host abundance. Modeling of GTA-mediated gene transfer frequencies in natural samples, along with other measured environmental variables, indicated a strong relationship between GTA mediated gene transfer and the combined factors of salinity, multiplicity of infection (MOI) and ambient bacterial abundance. These results indicate that GTA-mediated HGT in the marine environment with the strains examined is favored during times of elevated bacterial and GTA abundance as well as in areas of higher salinity.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043506
PMCID: PMC3419701  PMID: 22905268

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