Gama, J.A., Zilhão, R. & Dionisio, F. (2017) Co-resident plasmids travel together.Plasmid, 93, 24-29. DOI:10.1016/j.plasmid.2017.08.004 (IF2017 2,228; Q3 Microbiology)
Conjugative plasmids encode genes that enable them to transfer, by conjugation, from a given host cell to another cell. Conjugative transfer, despite being an important feature of conjugative plasmids, is not constitutive for most plasmids, the reason being that genes involved in horizontal transfer are mostly repressed. Only upon their transient de-repression are plasmids able to transfer horizontally. If host cells harbour multiple plasmids, their simultaneous transfer depends on simultaneous transient de-repression of all plasmids. If de-repression of different plasmids was random and independent events, simultaneous de-repression should be a rare event because the probability of simultaneous de-repression would be the product of the probabilities of de-repression of each plasmid. Some previous observations support this hypothesis, while others show that co-transfer of plasmids is more frequent than this reasoning indicates. Here, we show that co-transfer of multiple plasmids mainly results from non-independent events: the probability that all plasmids within a cell become de-repressed is much higher than if de-repression of plasmids genes were independent. We found a simple model for the probability of co-transfer: the plasmid having the lowest conjugation rates is the one who limits co-transfer. In this sense, cells receiving the plasmid with the lower transfer rate also receive the other plasmid. If de-repression happens simultaneously on co-resident plasmids, common cues may stimulate de-repression of distinct plasmids.