Lateral gene transfer is a significant contributor to the ongoing evolution of many bacterial pathogens, including β-hemolytic streptococci. Here we provide the first characterization of a novel integrative conjugative element (ICE), ICESde3396, from Streptococcus dysgalactiae subsp. equisimilis (group G streptococcus [GGS]), a bacterium commonly found in the throat and skin of humans. ICESde3396 is 64 kb in size and encodes 66 putative open reading frames. ICESde3396 shares 38 open reading frames with a putative ICE from Streptococcus agalactiae (group B streptococcus [GBS]), ICESa2603. In addition to genes involves in conjugal processes, ICESde3396 also carries genes predicted to be involved in virulence and resistance to various metals. A major feature of ICESde3396 differentiating it from ICESa2603 is the presence of an 18-kb internal recombinogenic region containing four unique gene clusters, which appear to have been acquired from streptococcal and nonstreptococcal bacterial species. The four clusters include two cadmium resistance operons, an arsenic resistance operon, and genes with orthologues in a group A streptococcus (GAS) prophage. Streptococci that naturally harbor ICESde3396 have increased resistance to cadmium and arsenate, indicating the functionality of genes present in the 18-kb recombinogenic region. By marking ICESde3396 with a kanamycin resistance gene, we demonstrate that the ICE is transferable to other GGS isolates as well as GBS and GAS. To investigate the presence of the ICE in clinical streptococcal isolates, we screened 69 isolates (30 GGS, 19 GBS, and 20 GAS isolates) for the presence of three separate regions of ICESde3396. Eleven isolates possessed all three regions, suggesting they harbored ICESde3396-like elements. Another four isolates possessed ICESa2603-like elements. We propose that ICESde3396 is a mobile genetic element that is capable of acquiring DNA from multiple bacterial sources and is a vehicle for dissemination of this DNA through the wider β-hemolytic streptococcal population.
Journal of Bacteriology / Vol. 191, No. 7, pp.2257-2265