A novel TnMERI1-like transposon designated as TnMARS1 was identified from mercury resistant Bacilli isolated from Minamata Bay sediment. Two adjacent ars operon-like gene clusters, ars1 and ars2, flanked by a pair of 78-bp inverted repeat sequences, which resulted in a 13.8-kbp transposon-like fragment, were found to be sandwiched between two transposable genes of the TnMERI1-like transposon of a mercury resistant bacterium, Bacillus sp. MB24. The presence of a single transcription start site in each cluster determined by 5′-RACE suggested that both are operons. Quantitative real time RT-PCR showed that the transcription of the arsR genes contained in each operon was induced by arsenite, while arsR2 responded to arsenite more sensitively and strikingly than arsR1 did. Further, arsenic resistance complementary experiments showed that the ars2 operon conferred arsenate and arsenite resistance to an arsB-knocked out Bacillus host, while the ars1 operon only raised arsenite resistance slightly. This transposon nested in TnMARS1 was designated as TnARS1. Multi-gene cluster blast against bacteria and Bacilli whole genome sequence databases suggested that TnMARS1 is the first case of a TnMERI1-like transposon combined with an arsenic resistance transposon. The findings of this study suggested that TnMERI1-like transposons could recruit other mobile elements into its genetic structure, and subsequently cause horizontal dissemination of both mercury and arsenic resistances among Bacilli in Minamata Bay.
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