Characterization of heavy metal tolerant bacterial plasmids isolated from a platinum mine tailings dam
Mahlatsi, Tladi Abram
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The development of metal-tolerance and antibiotic resistance in bacteria may be caused by metals polluting a particular environment. During mining and mineral processing activities, large quantities of metals are deposited into the soil. These high concentrations of metals are evolutionary pressures selecting for microorganisms tolerant to these metals. Metal-tolerance maybe conferred to these organisms by mobile genetic elements such as plasmids. This study describes the characteristics of plasmids isolated from various bacteria that displayed an ability to withstand high metal concentrations. The isolated plasmids were individually transformed into Escherichia coli JM109. Transformants were then evaluated for metal-tolerant capabilities using a microdilution approach. Plasmids were then isolated from the transformants and the concentration of the plasmid DNA ranged between 11.75 – 118.06 ng/μl. These plasmids were of the same size as the original ones. This demonstrated that successful transformations with plasmid DNA were conducted. In order to determine the compatibility group, plasmids were subjected to PCR amplification using IncQ, IncP-9 and IncW specific primers. Only the IncW provided positive results. To demonstrate that the plasmids were free of genomic DNA, a 16S rDNA PCR test was included. The plasmids that were positive for IncW PCRs were all negative for the rDNA PCRs. Plasmids were stably inherited and at least three, isolated from three different Gram positive species, belonged to the Inc W group of plasmids. These were originally isolated from Paenibacillus ginsingari, Paenibacillus lautus and Bacillus cereus. Minimum inhibition concentrations (MICs) were carried out to determine the ability of transformed E. coli JM109 to tolerate metals at varying concentrations. Results indicated that transformed E. coli JM109 developed ability to grow in the presence of several heavy metals. Some strains were resistant to high concentrations (+10 mM) of Ni2+/Al3+, Pb2+ and Ba2+. The order of metal resistance was Ni/Al=Pb>Ba>Mn>Cr>Cu>Co=Hg. All the x transformants were sensitive to 1 mM of Co2+ and Hg2+. Moreover, protein profiling was used to determine the impact of plasmids on E. coli JM109. Proteins were extracted from both transformed and un-transformed E. coli JM109 using acetone-SDS protocol and subjected to one-dimensional (1D) and two-dimensional (2D) Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis (SDS- PAGE). Transformed E. coli JM109 were grown under the metal stress. One dimension SDS-PAGE illustrated general similarity of the profiles except for two banding positions in the 30 to 35 kDa region where bands were present in the transformants that were grown in the Ni/Al alloy containing media. Two dimensional electrophoresis PAGE analysis showed that some of the proteins were up-regulated while others were down-regulated. The largest numbers of proteins were from 15 – 75 kDa. The majority of these proteins had isoelectric points (pI) between 5 and 6. It was concluded that plasmids isolated from various heavy metal-tolerant bacterial species were successfully transformed into E. coli JM109 rendering various new metal-tolerant E. coli JM109 strains. Furthermore, the study showed that metal resistance was due to the presence of the plasmids. Two-dimensional SDS-PAGE resolved more differences in the protein expression profiles. Since the plasmids rendered the E. coli JM109 tolerant to metals tested, it also can be concluded that the change in the protein profiles was due to the effects of the plasmids. Furthermore, plasmids were also re-isolated from the transformants and these plasmids were of the same size as the original ones.. All the plasmids in this study were also stably inherited, a feature associated with IncW plasmids. More detailed genetic characterization of these plasmids is required. Plasmids isolated and characterized in this study may hold biotechnology potential. Such features should be exploited in follow-up experiments.