Horizontal Gene Transfer Elements: Plasmids in Antarctic Microorganisms
Plasmids play an important role in the evolution of microbial communities. These mobile genetic elements can improve host survival and may also be involved in horizontal gene transfer (HGT) events between individuals. Diverse culture-dependent and culture-independent approaches have been used to characterize these mobile elements. Culture-dependent methods are usually associated with classical microbiological techniques. In the second approach, development of specific protocols for analysis of metagenomes involves many challenges, including assembly of sequences and availability of a reliable database, which are crucial. In addition, alternative strategies have been developed for the characterization of plasmid DNA in a sample, generically referred to as plasmidome.
The Antarctic continent has environments with diverse characteristics, including some with very low temperatures, humidity levels, and nutrients. The presence of microorganisms and genetic elements capable of being transferred horizontally has been confirmed in these environments, and it is generally accepted that some of these elements, such as plasmids, actively participate in adaptation mechanisms of host microorganisms.
Information related to structure and function of HGT elements in Antarctic bacteria is very limited compared to what is known about HGT in bacteria from temperate/tropical environments. Some studies are done with biotechnological objectives. The search for mobile elements, such as plasmids, may be related to improve the expression of heterologous genes in host organisms growing at very low temperatures. More recently, however, additional studies have been done to detect plasmids in isolates, associated or not with specific phenotypes such as drug resistance. Although various Antarctic metagenomes are available in public databases, corresponding studies of plasmidomes are needed. The difficulties usually associated with the study of metagenomes are increased in these cases by the limited number of sequences in functionally characterized databases.
KeywordsHorizontal gene transfer Plastmidome Global climate change Animal and human influence Antibiotic resistance genes
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