The impact of horizontal gene transfer on targeting the internal transcribed spacer region (ITS) to identify Acinetobacter junii strains

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Abstract

Aims

Despite electrophoretic patterns of ITS PCR amplicons often suggesting only a single ITS sequence variant is present in strains of Acinetobacter junii, sequence data shows differences in ITS copies between and among them. This paper set out to explain why these ITS variants arise, and whether their presence compromises the reliability of the ITS targeted methods currently available for typing Ac. junii strains.

Methods and Results

ITS sequences from a number of strains of Ac. junii were either downloaded from public databases or generated here by cloning and sequencing ITS PCR amplicons. ITS copies of Ac. junii strain 97338 were all 666 bp long, with identical sequences. In Ac. junii ATCC 17908T/BCRC 14854T), ITS copies were also all identical in their lengths but now were 706/7 bp long. Two sequence variants of these 707 bp ITS were detected. One was identical in its sequence to the nine ITS copies downloaded from the whole genome sequence of Ac. junii CIP 64·5, and those in several other Ac. junii strains. The other 707 bp ITS variant occurred elsewhere only in Ac. junii strain DSM 14968 of those examined. The six ITS copies from the genome sequence of Ac. junii NIPH 182 were all 685 bp, and with identical sequences. Ac. junii strain 178 also possessed this same 685 bp ITS variant, one of six variants detected there. At least five ITS sequence variants were seen in Ac. junii strain 97380, four in strain DSM 14968 and two in the whole genome of strain 107470.

Conclusions

As with those of other Acinetobacter species, such ITS variants arise not from intragenomic recombination events but from the presence of different length indels. These arise from horizontal gene transfers involving ITS fragments of other Acinetobacter species.

Significance and Impact of the Study

The presence of these indels compromises the reliability of the ITS targeted methods available for typing Acinetobacter junii. It also precludes the value of using ITS sequences as phylogenetic markers in members of the genus Acinetobacter, since the outcomes in both cases depends on which copy variant is chosen.

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