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Development of a dual-antimicrobial counterselection method for markerless genetic engineering of bacterial genomes

Ji, Xuemeng, Lu, Ping, van der Veen, Stijn
Applied microbiology and biotechnology 2019 v.103 no.3 pp. 1465-1474
Listeria monocytogenes, Neisseria meningitidis, agar, antibacterial properties, bacteria, chloramphenicol, erythromycin, genetic engineering, genome, gentamicin, homologous recombination, kanamycin, mutants, pathogens, screening, selection pressure, streptomycin
Markerless genetic engineering of bacterial genomes is commonly performed by two-step homologous recombination methods using vectors carrying flanking regions of the target gene for site-specific vector integration and counterselection markers to provide positive selection pressure on the second recombination step resulting in vector excision. Here, we provide the proof-of-principle of a novel counterselection method that exploits antagonistic activities between bactericidal and bacteriostatic antibiotics and which can provide selection pressure on the second recombination step by selective killing of bacteria retaining the antibiotic selection marker. This method was optimized for the bacterial pathogens Listeria monocytogenes and Neisseria meningitidis by screening for antagonistic activities between the bactericidal aminoglycosides kanamycin, streptomycin, and gentamicin in combination with the bacteriostatic antibiotics chloramphenicol and erythromycin. The largest difference in selective killing of both L. monocytogenes and N. meningitidis containing an antibiotic selection marker versus wild-type bacteria was observed for the combination of erythromycin, gentamicin, and ermC as antibiotic selection marker. Therefore, this combination was used to generate two markerless deletion mutants for both L. monocytogenes and N. meningitidis. After applying the dual-antimicrobial selection pressure on cultures during the second recombination step, surviving colonies were replica plated on agar with and without erythromycin. On average, 12–13% of the randomly selected bacterial colonies had lost the selection marker due to a second recombination event and approximately half of these colonies were the desired markerless in-frame deletion mutants. Therefore, this method proved to be easy and fast and should be applicable to a wide variety of bacterial species.