Diverse conjugative elements silence natural transformation in Legionella species [article]

Isabelle Durieux, Christophe Ginevra, Laetitia Attaiech, Kévin Picq, Pierre-Alexandre Juan, Sophie Jarraud, Xavier Charpentier
2019 bioRxiv   pre-print
Natural transformation, i.e. the uptake of DNA and its stable integration in the chromosome, is a major mechanism of horizontal gene transfer and is common in bacteria. The vast majority of bacterial genomes carry the specific genes involved in natural transformation, yet only a fraction of species are deemed naturally transformable. This is typically explained by the inability of standard laboratory conditions to induce this phenotypic trait. However, even when the inducing conditions are
more » ... conditions are known, large intraspecific variations have been reported. In this study, we investigated the conservation and distribution of natural transformability in the human pathogen Legionella pneumophila. Using a panel of 113 clinical isolates, we reveal that natural transformability is relatively conserved but shows large variations inconsistent with the phylogeny. By conducting a genome-wide association study (GWAS) we identified the conjugative plasmid pLPL as a source of these intraspecific variations. Conjugative transfer of the plasmid to transformable isolates abolished transformation and curing it restores transformability, thereby experimentally validating the GWAS result. We further show that the plasmid inhibits transformation by simultaneously silencing the genes required for DNA uptake and recombination, comEC, comEA, comF and comM. We identified a plasmid-encoded small RNA (sRNA), RocRp, as solely responsible for the silencing of natural transformation. RocRp is homologous to the highly conserved and chromosome-encoded RocR which controls the transient expression of the DNA uptake system. We show that RocRp can take over the function of RocR, by acting as a substitute, ensuring that the bacterial host of the conjugative plasmid does not become naturally transformable. Distinct homologs of this plasmid-encoded sRNA are found in diverse conjugative elements in other Legionella species, suggesting that silencing natural transformation is beneficial to these genetic elements. We propose that transformation-interfering factors are frequent genetic cargo of mobile genetic elements, accounting for intraspecific variations in natural transformation but also responsible for the apparent non-transformability of certain species.
doi:10.1101/623074 fatcat:v7v4lygh7rdkra6jhxbzqnia54