Polar Effects of Transposon Insertion into a Minimal Bacterial Genome
Hutchison CA, Merryman C, Sun L, Assad-Garcia N, Richter RA, Smith HO, Glass JI
Global transposon mutagenesis is a valuable tool for identifying genes required for cell viability. Here we present a global analysis of the orientation of viable Tn-Puro (Tn-puromycin resistance) insertions into the near-minimal bacterial genome of JCVI-syn2.0. Sixteen of the 478 protein-coding genes show a noticeable asymmetry in the orientation of disrupting insertions of Tn-Puro Ten of these are located in operons, upstream of essential or quasi-essential genes. Inserts transcribed in the same direction as the downstream gene are favored, permitting read-through transcription of the essential or quasi-essential gene. Some of these genes were classified as quasi-essential solely because of polar effects on the expression of downstream genes. Three genes showing asymmetry in Tn-Puro insertion orientation prefer the orientation that avoids collisions between read-through transcription of Tn-Puro and transcription of an adjacent gene. One gene (JCVISYN2_0132 [abbreviated here as "_0132"]) shows a strong preference for Tn-Puro insertions transcribed upstream, away from the downstream nonessential gene _0133. This suggested that expression of _0133 due to read-through from Tn-Puro is lethal when _0132 function is disrupted by transposon insertion. This led to the identification of genes _0133 and _0132 as a toxin-antitoxin pair. The three remaining genes show read-through transcription of Tn-Puro directed downstream and away from sizable upstream intergenic regions (199 bp to 363 bp), for unknown reasons. In summary, polar effects of transposon insertion can, in a few cases, affect the classification of genes as essential, quasi-essential, or nonessential and sometimes can give clues to gene function. In studies of the minimal genetic requirements for life, we used global transposon mutagenesis to identify genes needed for a minimal bacterial genome. Transposon insertion can disrupt the function of a gene but can also have polar effects on the expression of adjacent genes. In the Tn-Puro construct used in our studies, read-through transcription from Tn-Puro can drive expression of downstream genes. This results in a preference for Tn-Puro insertions transcribed toward a downstream essential or quasi-essential gene within the same operon. Such polar effects can have an impact on the classification of genes as essential, quasi-essential, or nonessential, but this has been observed in only a few cases. Also, polar effects of Tn-Puro insertion can sometimes give clues to gene function.