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1.  An Operon of Three Transcriptional Regulators Controls Horizontal Gene Transfer of the Integrative and Conjugative Element ICEclc in Pseudomonas knackmussii B13 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(6):e1004441.
The integrative and conjugative element ICEclc is a mobile genetic element in Pseudomonas knackmussii B13, and an experimental model for a widely distributed group of elements in Proteobacteria. ICEclc is transferred from specialized transfer competent cells, which arise at a frequency of 3-5% in a population at stationary phase. Very little is known about the different factors that control the transfer frequency of this ICE family. Here we report the discovery of a three-gene operon encoded by ICEclc, which exerts global control on transfer initiation. The operon consists of three consecutive regulatory genes, encoding a TetR-type repressor MfsR, a MarR-type regulator and a LysR-type activator TciR. We show that MfsR autoregulates expression of the operon, whereas TciR is a global activator of ICEclc gene expression, but no clear role was yet found for MarR. Deletion of mfsR increases expression of tciR and marR, causing the proportion of transfer competent cells to reach almost 100% and transfer frequencies to approach 1 per donor. mfsR deletion also caused a two orders of magnitude loss in population viability, individual cell growth arrest and loss of ICEclc. This indicates that autoregulation is an important feature maintaining ICE transfer but avoiding fitness loss. Bioinformatic analysis showed that the mfsR-marR-tciR operon is unique for ICEclc and a few highly related ICE, whereas tciR orthologues occur more widely in a large variety of suspected ICE among Proteobacteria.
Author Summary
Integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs) are a relatively newly recognized class of mobile elements in bacteria, which integrate at one or more positions in a host chromosome, can be excised, circularized, and transfer by conjugation to a new recipient cell. Genome sequencing indicated that ICEs often carry genes with potential adaptive functions for the host. Various ICE-types have been described and ICEclc is a useful model for a wide class of elements found in Beta- and Gammaproteobacteria. Because ICEs normally remain “silent” in the host chromosome and often lack selectable markers, their lifestyle is difficult to study. One of the characteristics of ICEclc is that transfer is initiated in only 3-5% of donor cells in a population during stationary phase. Here, we describe an operon of three regulatory genes, two of which control the transfer initiation of ICEclc. Our findings suggest that the low transfer rate results from the repression of an activator and that this is essential to minimize the deleterious effect of hyper-activation of transfer initiation. While the individual regulatory genes are quite common on ICEs, they rarely occur in this configuration.
PMCID: PMC4063739  PMID: 24945944
2.  Novel and unexpected bacterial diversity in an arsenic-rich ecosystem revealed by culture-dependent approaches 
Biology Direct  2012;7:28.
Acid Mine Drainages (AMDs) are extreme environments characterized by very acid conditions and heavy metal contaminations. In these ecosystems, the bacterial diversity is considered to be low. Previous culture-independent approaches performed in the AMD of Carnoulès (France) confirmed this low species richness. However, very little is known about the cultured bacteria in this ecosystem. The aims of the study were firstly to apply novel culture methods in order to access to the largest cultured bacterial diversity, and secondly to better define the robustness of the community for 3 important functions: As(III) oxidation, cellulose degradation and cobalamine biosynthesis.
Despite the oligotrophic and acidic conditions found in AMDs, the newly designed media covered a large range of nutrient concentrations and a pH range from 3.5 to 9.8, in order to target also non-acidophilic bacteria. These approaches generated 49 isolates representing 19 genera belonging to 4 different phyla. Importantly, overall diversity gained 16 extra genera never detected in Carnoulès. Among the 19 genera, 3 were previously uncultured, one of them being novel in databases. This strategy increased the overall diversity in the Carnoulès sediment by 70% when compared with previous culture-independent approaches, as specific phylogenetic groups (e.g. the subclass Actinobacteridae or the order Rhizobiales) were only detected by culture. Cobalamin auxotrophy, cellulose degradation and As(III)-oxidation are 3 crucial functions in this ecosystem, and a previous meta- and proteo-genomic work attributed each function to only one taxon. Here, we demonstrate that other members of this community can also assume these functions, thus increasing the overall community robustness.
This work highlights that bacterial diversity in AMDs is much higher than previously envisaged, thus pointing out that the AMD system is functionally more robust than expected. The isolated bacteria may be part of the rare biosphere which remained previously undetected due to molecular biases. No matter their current ecological relevance, the exploration of the full diversity remains crucial to decipher the function and dynamic of any community. This work also underlines the importance to associate culture-dependent and -independent approaches to gain an integrative view of the community function.
This paper was reviewed by Sándor Pongor, Eugene V. Koonin and Brett Baker (nominated by Purificacion Lopez-Garcia).
PMCID: PMC3443666  PMID: 22963335
Acid mine drainage (AMD); Alkaliphilic bacteria; Neutrophilic bacteria; Functional redundancy; Rare biosphere; Uncultured bacteria; Molecular biases; Culture-dependent approaches; Actinobacteria; Bacterial diversity
3.  Amylases without known homologues discovered in an acid mine drainage: significance and impact 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:354.
Acid Mine Drainages (AMDs) are extreme environments characterized by acidic and oligotrophic conditions and by metal contaminations. A function-based screening of an AMD-derived metagenomic library led to the discovery and partial characterization of two non-homologous endo-acting amylases sharing no sequence similarity with any known amylase nor glycosidase. None carried known amylolytic domains, nor could be assigned to any GH-family. One amylase displayed no similarity with any known protein, whereas the second one was similar to TraC proteins involved in the bacterial type IV secretion system. According to the scarce similarities with known proteins, 3D-structure modelling using I-TASSER was unsuccessful. This study underlined the utility of a function-driven metagenomic approach to obtain a clearer image of the bacterial community enzymatic landscape. More generally, this work points out that screening for microorganisms or biomolecules in a priori incongruous environments could provide unconventional and new exciting ways for bioprospecting.
PMCID: PMC3319935  PMID: 22482035
4.  Deciphering the role of Paenibacillus strain Q8 in the organic matter recycling in the acid mine drainage of Carnoulès 
The recycling of the organic matter is a crucial function in any environment, especially in oligotrophic environments such as Acid Mine Drainages (AMDs). Polymer-degrading bacteria might play an important role in such ecosystem, at least by releasing by-products useful for the rest of the community. In this study, physiological, molecular and biochemical experiments were performed to decipher the role of a Paenibacillus strain isolated from the sediment of Carnoulès AMD.
Even though Paenibacillus sp. strain Q8 was isolated from an oligotrophic AMD showing an acidic pH, it developed under both acidic and alkaline conditions and showed a heterotrophic metabolism based on the utilization of a broad range of organic compounds. It resisted to numerous metallic stresses, particularly high arsenite (As(III)) concentrations (> 1,800 mg/L). Q8 was also able to efficiently degrade polymers such as cellulose, xylan and starch. Function-based screening of a Q8 DNA-library allowed the detection of 15 clones with starch-degrading activity and 3 clones with xylan-degrading activity. One clone positive for starch degradation carried a single gene encoding a "protein of unknown function". Amylolytic and xylanolytic activities were measured both in growing cells and with acellular extracts of Q8. The results showed the ability of Q8 to degrade both polymers under a broad pH range and high As(III) and As(V) concentrations. Activity measurements allowed to point out the constitutive expression of the amylase genes and the mainly inducible expression of the xylanase genes. PACE demonstrated the endo-acting activity of the amylases and the exo-acting activity of the xylanases.
AMDs have been studied for years especially with regard to interactions between bacteria and the inorganic compartment hosting them. To date, no study reported the role of microorganisms in the recycling of the organic matter. The present work suggests that the strain Q8 might play an important role in the community by recycling the scarce organic matter (cellulose, hemicellulose, starch...), especially when the conditions change. Furthermore, function-based screening of a Q8 DNA library allowed to assign an amylolytic function to a gene previously unknown. AMDs could be considered as a reservoir of genes with potential biotechnological properties.
PMCID: PMC3287962  PMID: 22305268
Paenibacillus; Functional redundancy; Acid Mine Drainage (AMD); Amylase; Xylanase; Polymer degradation; Organic matter; Function-based screening; Community function

Results 1-4 (4)