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Plasmid-Mediated Tolerance Toward Environmental Pollutants

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  • Authors: Ana Segura1, Lázaro Molina2, Juan Luis Ramos3
  • Editors: Marcelo E. Tolmasky4, Juan Carlos Alonso5
    Affiliations: 1: Estación Experimental del Zaidin (CSIC), Environmental Protection Department, Profesor Albareda, 1, 18008 Granada, Spain; 2: CIDERTA, Laboratorio de Investigación y Control Agroalimentario (LICAH), Parque Huelva Empresarial, 21007 Huelva, Spain; 3: Estación Experimental del Zaidin (CSIC), Environmental Protection Department, Profesor Albareda, 1, 18008 Granada, Spain; 4: California State University, Fullerton, CA; 5: Centro Nacional de Biotecnología, Cantoblanco, Madrid, Spain
  • Source: microbiolspec November 2014 vol. 2 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PLAS-0013-2013
  • Received 04 February 2014 Accepted 05 February 2014 Published 07 November 2014
  • Ana Segura, [email protected]
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  • Abstract:

    The survival capacity of microorganisms in a contaminated environment is limited by the concentration and/or toxicity of the pollutant. Through evolutionary processes, some bacteria have developed or acquired mechanisms to cope with the deleterious effects of toxic compounds, a phenomenon known as tolerance. Common mechanisms of tolerance include the extrusion of contaminants to the outer media and, when concentrations of pollutants are low, the degradation of the toxic compound. For both of these approaches, plasmids that encode genes for the degradation of contaminants such as toluene, naphthalene, phenol, nitrobenzene, and triazine or are involved in tolerance toward organic solvents and heavy metals, play an important role in the evolution and dissemination of these catabolic pathways and efflux pumps. Environmental plasmids are often conjugative and can transfer their genes between different strains; furthermore, many catabolic or efflux pump genes are often associated with transposable elements, making them one of the major players in bacterial evolution. In this review, we will briefly describe catabolic and tolerance plasmids and advances in the knowledge and biotechnological applications of these plasmids.

  • Citation: Segura A, Molina L, Ramos J. 2014. Plasmid-Mediated Tolerance Toward Environmental Pollutants. Microbiol Spectrum 2(6):PLAS-0013-2013. doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PLAS-0013-2013.


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The survival capacity of microorganisms in a contaminated environment is limited by the concentration and/or toxicity of the pollutant. Through evolutionary processes, some bacteria have developed or acquired mechanisms to cope with the deleterious effects of toxic compounds, a phenomenon known as tolerance. Common mechanisms of tolerance include the extrusion of contaminants to the outer media and, when concentrations of pollutants are low, the degradation of the toxic compound. For both of these approaches, plasmids that encode genes for the degradation of contaminants such as toluene, naphthalene, phenol, nitrobenzene, and triazine or are involved in tolerance toward organic solvents and heavy metals, play an important role in the evolution and dissemination of these catabolic pathways and efflux pumps. Environmental plasmids are often conjugative and can transfer their genes between different strains; furthermore, many catabolic or efflux pump genes are often associated with transposable elements, making them one of the major players in bacterial evolution. In this review, we will briefly describe catabolic and tolerance plasmids and advances in the knowledge and biotechnological applications of these plasmids.

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Degradation pathways of mono- and biaromatic compounds. Major intermediates of the pathways are depicted. Genes or operons in different plasmids are colored to indicate their role: blue for toluene degradation genes, pink for naphthalene degradation genes, and yellow for biphenyl degradation genes. In green are the genes that can function in different degradation pathways. Genes and operons are not drawn to scale. Operon organization in some cases has not been experimentally demonstrated.

Source: microbiolspec November 2014 vol. 2 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PLAS-0013-2013
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Degradation pathways for heteroaromatic compounds. Major intermediates of the pathways are depicted. Genes or operons in different plasmids are shown in different colors. Genes and operons are not drawn to scale.

Source: microbiolspec November 2014 vol. 2 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PLAS-0013-2013
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Degradation pathways for chloroaromatic compounds. Major intermediates of the pathways are depicted. Genes or operons in different plasmids are shown in different colors. Genes and operons are not drawn to scale.

Source: microbiolspec November 2014 vol. 2 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PLAS-0013-2013
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Schematic representation of Tn-like region (A) and second region encoding stress resistance genes in pGRT1 (B). In red are indicated transposition-related genes, in green are stress-related functions, and in blue are putative recombinases or integrases.

Source: microbiolspec November 2014 vol. 2 no. 6 doi:10.1128/microbiolspec.PLAS-0013-2013
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