Source–sink plasmid transfer dynamics maintain gene mobility in soil bacterial communities

Hall, James PJ ORCID: 0000-0002-4896-4592, Wood, A Jamie, Harrison, Ellie and Brockhurst, Michael A
(2016) Source–sink plasmid transfer dynamics maintain gene mobility in soil bacterial communities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113 (29). 8260 - 8265.

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Horizontal gene transfer is a fundamental process in bacterial evolution that can accelerate adaptation via the sharing of genes between lineages. Conjugative plasmids are the principal genetic elements mediating the horizontal transfer of genes, both within and between bacterial species. In some species, plasmids are unstable and likely to be lost through purifying selection, but when alternative hosts are available, interspecific plasmid transfer could counteract this and maintain access to plasmid-borne genes. To investigate the evolutionary importance of alternative hosts to plasmid population dynamics in an ecologically relevant environment, we established simple soil microcosm communities comprising two species of common soil bacteria, Pseudomonas fluorescens and Pseudomonas putida, and a mercury resistance (HgR) plasmid, pQBR57, both with and without positive selection [i.e., addition of Hg(II)]. In single-species populations, plasmid stability varied between species: although pQBR57 survived both with and without positive selection in P. fluorescens, it was lost or replaced by nontransferable HgR captured to the chromosome in P. putida. A simple mathematical model suggests these differences were likely due to pQBR57’s lower intraspecific conjugation rate in P. putida. By contrast, in two-species communities, both models and experiments show that interspecific conjugation from P. fluorescens allowed pQBR57 to persist in P. putida via source–sink transfer dynamics. Moreover, the replacement of pQBR57 by nontransferable chromosomal HgR in P. putida was slowed in coculture. Interspecific transfer allows plasmid survival in host species unable to sustain the plasmid in monoculture, promoting community-wide access to the plasmid-borne accessory gene pool and thus potentiating future evolvability.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: horizontal gene transfer, plasmids, mobile genetic elements, microbial ecology
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2019 08:36
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2021 15:04
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1600974113
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