The variation of dTDP-L-rhamnose pathway genes in Vibrio cholerae.
The genetic variation in the dTDP-L-rhamnose pathway genes (rmlA, rmlB, rmlC and rmlD) in Vibrio cholerae was investigated. The genes are part of the O antigen gene cluster and the aim was to study lateral gene transfer of O antigen gene clusters. The rml genes of an O6 strain were cloned using an Escherichia coli K-12 strain designed for selecting cloned rml genes. Thirty-three strains carrying the known rhamnose-containing O antigens were probed with O6-based rml gene probes, and 19 were positive with from one to all four of the gene probes. Nine rml gene sets from this group were sequenced and found to be in the order rmlBADC, at the 5' end of the gene clusters. A gradient in the level of variation was observed, with highly similar sequences at the 5' end rmlB gene, but very divergent and strain-specific sequences at the 3' end of the rml gene set. The change in level of similarity varied in position, but was always abrupt and coincided with a change in GC content, indicating that the 5' and 3' parts are of different origin, and that recombination within rml genes has occurred. The rml gene sets of two of the strains that did not hybridize with any O6 rml gene probes were also cloned and sequenced. Both gene sets were in the middle of the O antigen gene cluster and were very divergent from each other and all other rml gene sets. This supports the hypothesis that presence of rml genes at the end of the O antigen gene cluster facilitates lateral gene transfer of rml-containing O antigen gene clusters in V. cholerae. The sequence relationships make it possible to identify sites of recombination and to distinguish DNA that has long been in V. cholerae and DNA that probably came into the species with the O antigen gene cluster.