Excision and transfer of the Mesorhizobium loti R7A symbiosis island requires an integrase IntS, a novel recombination directionality factor RdfS, and a putative relaxase RlxS


*E-mail Clive.Ronson@stonebow.otago.ac.nz; Tel. (+64) 3479 7701; Fax (+64) 3479 8540.


The Mesorhizobium loti strain R7A symbiosis island is an Integrative Conjugative Element (ICE), herein termed ICEMlSymR7A, which integrates into a phetRNA gene. Integration reconstructs the phetRNA gene at one junction with the core chromosome, and a direct repeat of the 3-prime 17 bp of the gene is formed at the other junction. We show that the ICEMlSymR7AintS gene, which encodes an integrase of the phage P4 family, is required for integration and excision of the island. Excision also depended on a novel recombination directionality factor encoded by msi109 (rdfS). Constitutive expression of rdfS resulted in curing of ICEMlSymR7A. The rdfS gene is part of an operon with genes required for conjugative transfer, allowing co-ordinate regulation of ICEMlSymR7A excision and transfer. The excised form of ICEMlSymR7A was detectable during exponential growth but occurred at higher frequency during stationary phase. ICEMlSymR7A encodes homologues of the traR and traI genes of Agrobacterium tumefaciens that regulate Ti plasmid transfer via quorum sensing. The presence of a plasmid with cloned island traR traI2 genes resulted in excision of ICEMlSymR7A in all cells regardless of culture density, indicating that excision may be similarly regulated. Maintenance of ICEMlSymR7A in these cells depended on msi106 (rlxS) that encodes a putative relaxase. Transfer of the island to non-symbiotic mesorhizobia required intS, rlxS and rdfS. The rdfS and rlxS genes are conserved across a diverse range of α-, β- and γ-proteobacteria and identify a large family of genomic islands with a common transfer mechanism.