Infections due to Escherichia coli have been costly to the poultry industry, but the exact virulence mechanisms used by these organisms to cause disease in birds remain undefined. Several factors have been shown to contribute to the virulence of avian E. coli, and many of the genes encoding these factors have been found on large conjugative plasmids. Because of the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance genes on these same plasmids, it is possible that the use of antimicrobial agents may select for persistence of E. coli containing such plasmids. In the present study, a subclone of one of these plasmids was identified as likely containing some virulence and antimicrobial resistance genes. In an effort to better understand the relationship between virulence and resistance in these plasmids, this subclone was sequenced and the sequence analyzed. Analysis of this 30-kilobase (kb) region of plasmid pTJ100 revealed a mosaic of virulence genes, insertion sequences, antimicrobial resistance cassettes, and their remnants. Many of the resistance genes found in this region were expressed under laboratory conditions, indicating that certain antimicrobial agents, including disinfectants, antibiotics, and heavy metals, could promote selection of E. coli containing such plasmids in the production environment. Also, analysis of the G C content of this clone indicated that it is the likely consequence of a complex evolution with components derived from various sources. The occurrence of many mobile elements in conjunction with antimicrobial resistance and virulence genes in this 30-kb region may indicate that the genetic constitution of the clone is quite plastic. Although further study will be required to better define this plasmid's role in avian E. coli virulence, the sequence described here is, to our knowledge, the longest known contiguous sequence of a ColV plasmid yet presented. Analysis of this sequence indicates that this clone and its parent plasmid may be important to the pathogenesis of avian colibacillosis and the evolution of avian E. coli virulence.
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Vol. 48 • No. 2