, Volume 96, Issue 2, pp 115-139
Date: 01 Oct 2008

Cupriavidus metallidurans: evolution of a metal-resistant bacterium

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Abstract

Cupriavidus metallidurans CH34 has gained increasing interest as a model organism for heavy metal detoxification and for biotechnological purposes. Resistance of this bacterium to transition metal cations is predominantly based on metal resistance determinants that contain genes for RND (resistance, nodulation, and cell division protein family) proteins. These are part of transenvelope protein complexes, which seem to detoxify the periplasm by export of toxic metal cations from the periplasm to the outside. Strain CH34 contains 12 predicted RND proteins belonging to a protein family of heavy metal exporters. Together with many efflux systems that detoxify the cytoplasm, regulators and possible metal-binding proteins, RND proteins mediate an efficient defense against transition metal cations. To shed some light into the origin of genes encoding these proteins, the genomes of C. metallidurans CH34 and six related proteobacteria were investigated for occurrence of orthologous and paralogous proteins involved in metal resistance. Strain CH34 was not much different from the other six bacteria when the total content of transport proteins was compared but CH34 had significantly more putative transition metal transport systems than the other bacteria. The genes for these systems are located on its chromosome 2 but especially on plasmids pMOL28 and pMOL30. Cobalt–nickel and chromate resistance determinants located on plasmid pMOL28 evolved by gene duplication and horizontal gene transfer events, leading to a better adaptation of strain CH34 to serpentine-like soils. The czc cobalt–zinc–cadmium resistance determinant, located on plasmid pMOL30 in addition copper, lead and mercury resistance determinants, arose by duplication of a czcICAB core determinant on chromosome 2, plus addition of the czcN gene upstream and the genes czcD, czcRS, czcE downstream of czcICBA. C. metallidurans apparently evolved metal resistance by horizontal acquisition and by duplication of genes for transition metal efflux, mostly on the two plasmids, and decreased the number of uptake systems for those metals.

This paper is dedicated to Dr. Max Mergeay for a long time of cooperation, constructive competition and friendship.