Broad-host-range plasmids play a critical role in the spread of antibiotic resistance and other traits. In spite of increasing information about the genomic diversity of closely related plasmids, the relationship between sequence divergence and host range remains unclear. IncP-1 plasmids are currently classified into six subgroups based on the genetic distance of backbone genes. We investigated whether plasmids from two subgroups exhibit a different host range, using two IncP- 1γ plasmids, an IncP-1β plasmid and their minireplicons. Efficiencies of plasmid establishment and maintenance were compared using five species that belong to the Alphaproteobacteria, Betaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria. The IncP-1β plasmid replicated and persisted in all five hosts in the absence of selection. Of the two IncP-1γ plasmids, both were unable to replicate in alphaproteobacterial host Sphingobium japonicum, and one established itself in Agrobacterium tumefaciens but was very unstable. In contrast, both IncP-1γ minireplicons, which produced higher levels of replication initiation protein than the wild-type plasmids, replicated in all strains, suggesting that poor establishment of the native plasmids is in part due to suboptimal replication initiation gene regulation. The findings suggest that host ranges of distinct IncP-1 plasmids only partially overlap, which may limit plasmid recombination and thus result in further genome divergence.
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