Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 23059972
Microbiology (Reading, Engl.) 2012 Dec;158(Pt 12):2997-3004
Clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs) are implicated in defence against foreign DNA in various archaeal and bacterial species. They have also been associated with a slower spread of antibiotic resistance. However, experimental and evolutionary studies raise doubts about the role of CRISPRs as a sort of immune system in Escherichia coli. We studied a collection of 263 natural E. coli isolates from human and animal hosts, representative of the phylogenetic and lifestyle diversity of the species and exhibiting various levels of plasmid-encoded antibiotic resistance. We characterized the strains in terms of CRISPRs, performed replicon typing of the plasmids and tested for class 1 integrons to explore the possible association between CRISPRs and the absence of plasmids and mobile antibiotic resistance determinants. We found no meaningful association between the presence/absence of the cas genes, reflecting the activity of the CRISPRs, and the presence of plasmids, integrons or antibiotic resistance. No CRISPR in the collection contained a spacer that matched an antibiotic resistance gene or element involved in antibiotic resistance gene mobilization, and 79.8% (210/263) of the strains lacked spacers matching sequences in the 2282 plasmid genomes available. Hence, E. coli CRISPRs do not seem to be efficient barriers to the spread of plasmids and antibiotic resistance, consistent with what has been reported for phages, and contrary to reports concerning other species.