Characterization of the stability and dynamics of Tn6330 in an Escherichia coli strain by nanopore long reads

The mcr-1 gene has been widely reported in both bacterial chromosomes and plasmids, while its stability in these genetic materials is not well understood.

Our aim was to characterize the stability and dynamics of Tn6330 elements in both a plasmid and the chromosome in a single bacterial population.

Plasmid-borne and chromosomal Tn6330 were characterized by PCR, conjugation, S1-PFGE, stability assay, single-molecule long-read sequencing and bioinformatics analysis.

Tn6330 was simultaneously detected in both a plasmid and the chromosome of a clinical Escherichia coli strain. The plasmid was found to comprise the IncFIB replicon and a phage-like replicon, as well as two integrons that harboured various mobile elements and resistance genes including mcr-1, floR, blaTEM-1band strAB. Both plasmid-borne and chromosomal Tn6330 transposons could be re-organized into a circular intermediate that played a role in transmission of the mcr-1 gene. Tn6330 was found to be very stable in both the plasmid and chromosome after 30 passages of 12 h with or without colistin selective pressure. The decayed structure of Tn6330 in the genuine single DNA molecules of bacterial populations, although occurring at a very low frequency, could be detected for the first time, in which Tn6330 was degraded into a single ISApl1 element.

Long-read sequencing technology is a good tool to study the evolution and stability of genetic elements in bacteria. The ultrastability of an mcr-1-encoding element in a bacterial plasmid and chromosome renders it unlikely to be eradicated quickly by the reduced use of colistin, and factors leading to the frequent demise of Tn6330 warrant further studies.

Authors: Ruichao Li, Kaichao Chen, Edward Wai-Chi Chan, Sheng Chen