Transposition of an antibiotic resistance element in mycobacteria


BACTERIAL resistance to antibiotics is often plasmid-mediated and the associated resistance genes encoded by transposable elements. Mycobacteria, including the human pathogens Mycobacterium tuberculosis and M. leprae, are resistant to many antibiotics, and their cell-surface structure is believed to be largely responsible for the wide range of resistance phenotypes. Antibiotic-resistance plasmids have so far not been implicated in resistance of mycobacteria to antibiotics. Nevertheless, antibiotic-modifying activities such as aminoglycoside acetyltransferases1 and phosphotransferases1 have been detected in fast-growing species2,3. β-lactamases have also been found in most fast- and slow-growing mycobacteria. To date no mycobacterial antibiotic-resistance genes have been isolated and characterized. We now report the isolation, cloning and sequencing of a genetic region responsible for resistance to sulphonamides in M. fortuitum. This region also contains an open reading frame homologous to one present in Tn16964 (member of the Tn21 family) which encodes a site-specific integrase5,6. The mycobacterial resistance element is flanked by repeated sequences of 880 base pairs similar to the insertion elements of the IS6 family found in Gram+ and Gram- bacteria. The insertion element is shown to transpose to different sites in the chromosome of a related fast-growing species, M. smegmatis. The characterization of this element should permit transposon mutagenesis in the analysis of mycobacterial virulence and related problems.

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Martin, C., Timm, J., Rauzier, J. et al. Transposition of an antibiotic resistance element in mycobacteria. Nature 345, 739–743 (1990).

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