Engineered integrative and conjugative elements for efficient and inducible DNA transfer to undomesticated bacteria

Brophy, JANT, Alexander J.; Adams, Bryn L.; Renberg, Rebecca L.; Stratis-Cullum, Dimitra N.; Grossman, Alan D.; Voigt, Christopher A.,  Nature Microbiology,  3:1043-1053. 2018.

Engineering microorganisms to promote human or plant health will require manipulation of robust bacteria that are capable of surviving in harsh, competitive environments. Genetic engineering of undomesticated bacteria can be limited by an inability to transfer DNA into the cell. Here we developed an approach based on the integrative and conjugative element from Bacillus subtilis (ICEBs1) to overcome this problem. A donor strain (XPORT) was built to transfer miniaturized integrative and conjugative elements (mini-ICEBs1) to undomesticated bacteria. The strain was engineered to enable inducible control over conjugation, to integrate delivered DNA into the chromosome of the recipient, to restrict spread of heterologous DNA through separation of the type IV secretion system from the transferred DNA, and to enable simple isolation of engineered bacteria through a d-alanine auxotrophy. Efficient DNA transfer (10–1 to 10–7 conjugation events per donor) is demonstrated using 35 Gram-positive strains isolated from humans (skin and gut) and soil. Mini-ICEBs1 was used to rapidly characterize the performance of an isopropyl-?-d-thiogalactoside (IPTG)-inducible reporter across dozens of strains and to transfer nitrogen fixation to four Bacillus species. Finally, XPORT was introduced to soil to demonstrate DNA transfer under non-ideal conditions.