The recent findings of various mobile catabolic genes have provided some insight into the evolution of microbial degradation systems for xenobiotic compounds. The catabolic genes undergo marked genetic rearrangements due to their presence on transposons or association with mobile genetic elements. Bacterial catabolic transposons fall into three defined structural classes. Class I elements include catabolic genes flanked by two copies of insertion sequences. Class II elements carry short terminal inverted repeats and transpose by the replicative mode in which transposase and resolvase are involved. Conjugative catabolic transposons represent the third class of mobile genetic elements. They carry all the genes required for excision, conjugal transfer to a new host, and integration. This review focuses on the structures, functions and roles of the recently characterized catabolic transposons in bacteria. Also described are the mobile catabolic elements that share structural similarity with the pathogenicity and symbiosis islands.
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