High diversity and variability of pipolins among a wide range of pathogenic Escherichia coli strains
Self-synthesizing transposons are integrative mobile genetic elements (MGEs) that encode their own B-family DNA polymerase (PolB). Discovered a few years ago, they are proposed as key players in the evolution of several groups of DNA viruses and virus-host interaction machinery. Pipolins are the most recent addition to the group, are integrated in the genomes of bacteria from diverse phyla and also present as circular plasmids in mitochondria. Remarkably, pipolins-encoded PolBs are proficient
... Bs are proficient DNA polymerases endowed with DNA priming capacity, hence the name, primer-independent PolB (piPolB). We have now surveyed the presence of pipolins in a collection of 2238 human and animal pathogenic Escherichia coli strains and found that, although detected in only 25 new isolates (1.1%), they are present in E. coli strains from a wide variety of pathotypes, serotypes, phylogenetic groups and sequence types. Overall, the pangenome of strains carrying pipolins is highly diverse, despite the fact that a considerable number of strains belongs to only three clonal complexes (CC10, CC23 and CC32). Comparative analysis with a set of 67 additional pipolin-harboring strains from GenBank further confirmed these results. The genetic structure of pipolins shows great flexibility and variability, with the piPolB gene and the attachment sites being the only common features. Most pipolins contain one or more recombinases that would be involved in excision/integration of the element in the same conserved tRNA gene. This mobilization mechanism might explain the apparent incompatibility of pipolins with other integrative MGEs such as integrons. In addition, analysis of cophylogeny between pipolins and pipolin-harboring strains showed a lack of congruence between several pipolins and their host strains, in agreement with horizontal transfer between hosts. Overall, these results indicate that pipolins can serve as a vehicle for genetic transfer among circulating E. coli and possibly also among other pathogenic bacteria.