Site-Specific Mobilization of Vinyl Chloride Respiration Islands by a Mechanism Common in Dehalococcoides



Vinyl chloride is a widespread groundwater pollutant and Group 1 carcinogen. A previous comparative genomic analysis revealed that the vinyl chloride reductase operon, vcrABC, of Dehalococcoides sp. strain VS is embedded in a horizontally-acquired genomic island that integrated at the single-copy tmRNA gene, ssrA.


We targeted conserved positions in available genomic islands to amplify and sequence four additional vcrABC -containing genomic islands from previously-unsequenced vinyl chloride respiring Dehalococcoides enrichments. We identified a total of 31 ssrA-specific genomic islands from Dehalococcoides genomic data, accounting for 47 reductive dehalogenase homologous genes and many other non-core genes. Sixteen of these genomic islands contain a syntenic module of integration-associated genes located adjacent to the predicted site of integration, and among these islands, eight contain vcrABC as genetic ‘cargo’. These eight vcrABC -containing genomic islands are syntenic across their ~12 kbp length, but have two phylogenetically discordant segments that unambiguously differentiate the integration module from the vcrABCcargo. Using available Dehalococcoides phylogenomic data we estimate that these ssrA-specific genomic islands are at least as old as theDehalococcoides group itself, which in turn is much older than human civilization.


The vcrABC -containing genomic islands are a recently-acquired subset of a diverse collection of ssrA-specific mobile elements that are a major contributor to strain-level diversity in Dehalococcoides, and may have been throughout its evolution. The high similarity between vcrABC sequences is quantitatively consistent with recent horizontal acquisition driven by ~100 years of industrial pollution with chlorinated ethenes.