The Association between Insertion Sequences and Antibiotic Resistance Genes
Journal article, 2020

Insertion sequences (ISs) are abundant mobile genetic elements on bacterial genomes, responsible for mobilization of many genes, including antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs). As ARGs often occur in similar genetic contexts, understanding which ISs tend to be associated with known ARGs could be a first step toward discovering novel ARGs through predictive or experimental strategies. This could be valuable, as early identification of ARGs in pathogens could facilitate surveillance, confinement actions, molecular diagnostics, and drug development. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of the association of specific ISs with known ARGs. A large collection of bacterial genomes was used to characterize the immediate context of 2,437 known ARGs and 3,768 ISs. While many ARGs were consistently found close to specific ISs, the contexts around all ISs were more variable. Nevertheless, a subset of individual ISs, as well as tentative composite transposons, showed significant associations with ARGs. These included, e.g., insertion sequences classified as IS6, Tn3, IS4, and IS1 that were not only strongly associated with diverse ARGs but also highly abundant in pathogens. Therefore, we conclude that the context of this subset of ISs and tentative composite transposons would be particularly valuable to discover novel ARGs through modeling or empirical approaches. A set of 1,891 metagenomes were analyzed to identify environments where those ISs commonly associated with ARGs were particularly abundant. The associations found in metagenomes were similar to those found in genomes.IMPORTANCE The emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) among pathogens threaten the prevention and treatment of bacterial infections as well as our food production chains. Early knowledge about mobile ARGs that are present in pathogens or that have the potential to become clinically relevant could help mitigate potential negative consequences. Recently, exploring integron gene cassettes was shown to be successful for identifying novel mobilized ARGs, some of which were already circulating in pathogens. Still, only a subset of ARGs is mobilized by integrons, and the contexts of other mobile genetic elements associated with ARGs remain unexplored. This includes insertion sequences (ISs) responsible for the mobilization of many ARGs. Our analyses identified ISs, species, and environments where ARG-IS relationships are particularly strong. This could be a first step to guide the discovery of novel ARGs, while also providing insights into mechanisms involved in the mobilization and transfer of ARGs.

antibiotic resistance


insertion sequences

bacterial genomes




Mohammad Razavi

University of Gothenburg

Erik Kristiansson

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Statistics

University of Gothenburg

Carl-Fredrik Flach

University of Gothenburg

D. G. Joakim Larsson

University of Gothenburg


23795042 (eISSN)

Vol. 5 5 e00418

Subject Categories

Evolutionary Biology







More information

Latest update