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1.  Development and Host Compatibility of Plasmids for Two Important Ruminant Pathogens, Mycoplasma bovis and Mycoplasma agalactiae 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0119000.
Mycoplasma bovis is a cause of pneumonia, mastitis, arthritis and otitis media in cattle throughout the world. However, despite its clinical significance, there is a paucity of tools to genetically manipulate it, impeding our capacity to further explore the molecular basis of its virulence. To address this limitation, we developed a series of homologous and heterologous replicable plasmids from M. bovis and M. agalactiae. The shortest replicable oriC plasmid based on the region downstream of dnaA in M. bovis was 247 bp and contained two DnaA boxes, while oriC plasmids based on the region downstream of dnaA in M. agalactiae strains 5632 and PG2 were 219 bp and 217 bp in length, respectively, and contained only a single DnaA box. The efficiency of transformation in M. bovis and M. agalactiae was inversely correlated with the size of the oriC region in the construct, and, in general, homologous oriC plasmids had a higher transformation efficiency than heterologous oriC plasmids. The larger pWholeoriC45 and pMM21-7 plasmids integrated into the genomic oriC region of M. bovis, while the smaller oriC plasmids remained extrachromosomal for up to 20 serial passages in selective media. Although specific gene disruptions were not be achieved in M. bovis in this study, the oriC plasmids developed here could still be useful as tools in complementation studies and for expression of exogenous genes in both M. bovis and M. agalactiae.
PMCID: PMC4351888  PMID: 25746296
2.  Chromosomal Transfers in Mycoplasmas: When Minimal Genomes Go Mobile 
mBio  2014;5(6):e01958-14.
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.
PMCID: PMC4251992  PMID: 25425234
3.  Experimental Infections with Mycoplasma agalactiae Identify Key Factors Involved in Host-Colonization 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93970.
Mechanisms underlying pathogenic processes in mycoplasma infections are poorly understood, mainly because of limited sequence similarities with classical, bacterial virulence factors. Recently, large-scale transposon mutagenesis in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae identified the NIF locus, including nifS and nifU, as essential for mycoplasma growth in cell culture, while dispensable in axenic media. To evaluate the importance of this locus in vivo, the infectivity of two knock-out mutants was tested upon experimental infection in the natural host. In this model, the parental PG2 strain was able to establish a systemic infection in lactating ewes, colonizing various body sites such as lymph nodes and the mammary gland, even when inoculated at low doses. In these PG2-infected ewes, we observed over the course of infection (i) the development of a specific antibody response and (ii) dynamic changes in expression of M. agalactiae surface variable proteins (Vpma), with multiple Vpma profiles co-existing in the same animal. In contrast and despite a sensitive model, none of the knock-out mutants were able to survive and colonize the host. The extreme avirulent phenotype of the two mutants was further supported by the absence of an IgG response in inoculated animals. The exact role of the NIF locus remains to be elucidated but these data demonstrate that it plays a key role in the infectious process of M. agalactiae and most likely of other pathogenic mycoplasma species as many carry closely related homologs.
PMCID: PMC3974822  PMID: 24699671
4.  Genome-Scale Analysis of Mycoplasma agalactiae Loci Involved in Interaction with Host Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25291.
Mycoplasma agalactiae is an important pathogen of small ruminants, in which it causes contagious agalactia. It belongs to a large group of “minimal bacteria” with a small genome and reduced metabolic capacities that are dependent on their host for nutrients. Mycoplasma survival thus relies on intimate contact with host cells, but little is known about the factors involved in these interactions or in the more general infectious process. To address this issue, an assay based on goat epithelial and fibroblastic cells was used to screen a M. agalactiae knockout mutant library. Mutants with reduced growth capacities in cell culture were selected and 62 genomic loci were identified as contributing to this phenotype. As expected for minimal bacteria, “transport and metabolism” was the functional category most commonly implicated in this phenotype, but 50% of the selected mutants were disrupted in coding sequences (CDSs) with unknown functions, with surface lipoproteins being most commonly represented in this category. Since mycoplasmas lack a cell wall, lipoproteins are likely to be important in interactions with the host. A few intergenic regions were also identified that may act as regulatory sequences under co-culture conditions. Interestingly, some mutants mapped to gene clusters that are highly conserved across mycoplasma species but located in different positions. One of these clusters was found in a transcriptionally active region of the M. agalactiae chromosome, downstream of a cryptic promoter. A possible scenario for the evolution of these loci is discussed. Finally, several CDSs identified here are conserved in other important pathogenic mycoplasmas, and some were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant species. These results provide a basis for further deciphering functions mediating mycoplasma-host interactions.
PMCID: PMC3179502  PMID: 21966487
5.  Critical Role of Dispensable Genes in Mycoplasma agalactiae Interaction with Mammalian Cells▿  
Infection and Immunity  2010;78(4):1542-1551.
Mycoplasmas are minimal bacteria whose genomes barely exceed the smallest amount of information required to sustain autonomous life. Despite this apparent simplicity, several mycoplasmas are successful pathogens of humans and animals, in which they establish intimate interactions with epithelial cells at mucosal surfaces. To identify biological functions mediating mycoplasma interactions with mammalian cells, we produced a library of transposon knockout mutants in the ruminant pathogen Mycoplasma agalactiae and used this library to identify mutants displaying a growth-deficient pheonotype in cell culture. M. agalactiae mutants displaying a 3-fold reduction in CFU titers to nearly complete extinction in coculture with HeLa cells were identified. Mapping of transposon insertion sites revealed 18 genomic regions putatively involved in the interaction of M. agalactiae with HeLa cells. Several of these regions encode proteins with features of membrane lipoproteins and/or were involved in horizontal gene transfer with phylogenetically distant pathogenic mycoplasmas of ruminants. Two mutants with the most extreme phenotype carry a transposon in a genomic region designated the NIF locus which encodes homologues of SufS and SufU, two proteins presumably involved in [Fe-S] cluster biosynthesis in Gram-positive bacteria. Complementation studies confirmed the conditional essentiality of the NIF locus, which was found to be critical for proliferation in the presence of HeLa cells and several other mammalian cell lines but dispensable for axenic growth. While our results raised questions regarding essential functions in mycoplasmas, they also provide a means for studying the role of mycoplasmas as minimal pathogens.
PMCID: PMC2849427  PMID: 20123713
6.  Comparative genomic and proteomic analyses of two Mycoplasma agalactiae strains: clues to the macro- and micro-events that are shaping mycoplasma diversity 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:86.
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.
PMCID: PMC2824730  PMID: 20122262
7.  Occurrence, Plasticity, and Evolution of the vpma Gene Family, a Genetic System Devoted to High-Frequency Surface Variation in Mycoplasma agalactiae▿ † 
Journal of Bacteriology  2009;191(13):4111-4121.
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.
PMCID: PMC2698505  PMID: 19376859

Results 1-7 (7)