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Summary

Pyrrolnitrin (PRN) is a tryptophan-derived secondary metabolite produced by a narrow range of Gram-negative bacteria. The PRN biosynthesis by rhizobacteria presumably has a key role in their life strategies and in the biocontrol of plant diseases. The biosynthetic operon that encodes the pathway that converts tryptophan to PRN is composed of four genes, prnA through D, whose diversity, genomic context and spread over bacterial genomes are poorly understood. Therefore, we launched an endeavour aimed at retrieving, by in vitro and in silico means, diverse bacteria carrying the prnABCD biosynthetic loci in their genomes. Analysis of polymorphisms of the prnD gene sequences revealed a high level of conservation between Burkholderia, Pseudomonas and Serratia spp. derived sequences. Whole-operon- and prnD-based phylogeny resulted in tree topologies that are incongruent with the taxonomic status of the evaluated strains as predicted by 16S rRNA gene phylogeny. The genomic composition of c. 20 kb DNA fragments containg the PRN operon varied in different strains. Highly conserved and distinct transposase-encoding genes surrounding the PRN biosynthetic operons of Burkholderia pseudomallei strains were found. A prnABCD-deprived genomic region in B. pseudomallei strain K96243 contained the same gene composition as, and shared high homology with, the flanking regions of the PRN operon in B. pseudomallei strains 668, 1106a and 1710b. Our results strongly suggest that the PRN biosynthetic operon is mobile. The extent, frequency and promiscuity of this mobility remain to be understood.