Unusual features of the sequences of copies of the 16S-23S rRNA internal transcribed spacer regions of Acinetobacter bereziniae, Acinetobacter guillouiae and Acinetobacter baylyi arise from horizontal gene transfer events
The highly variable nature of the internal transcribed spacer region (ITS) has been claimed to represent an ideal target for designing species-specific probes/primers capable of differentiating between closely related Acinetobacter species. However, several Acinetobacter species contain multiple ITS copies of variable lengths, and these include Acinetobacter bereziniae, Acinetobacter guillouiae and Acinetobacter baylyi. This study shows these length variations result from inter-genomic insertion/deletion events (indels) involving horizontal transfer of ITS fragments of other Acinetobacter species and possibly unrelated bacteria, as shown previously by us. In some instances, indel incorporation results in the loss of probe target sites in the recipient cell ITS. In other cases, some indel sequences contain target sites for probes designed from a single ITS sequence to target other Acinetobacter species. Hence, these can generate false positives. The largest of the indels that remove probe sites is 683 bp (labelled bay/i1-0), and it derives from the horizontal transfer of a complete ITS between A. bereziniae BCRC15423(T) and A. baylyi strain ADP1. As a consequence, ITS sequencing or fingerprinting cannot be used to distinguish between the 683 bp ITS in these two strains.