Generation of small colony variants in biofilms by Escherichia coli harboring a conjugative F plasmid

Yosuke Tashiro, Hiroaki Eida, Satoshi Ishii, Hiroyuki Futamata, Satoshi Okabe

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10 Scopus citations


A conjugative F plasmid induces mature biofilm formation by Escherichia coli by promoting F-pili-mediated cell-cell interactions and increasing the expression of biofilm-related genes. We herein demonstrated another function for the F plasmid in E. coli biofilms; it contributes to the emergence of genetic and phenotypic variations by spontaneous mutations. Small colony variants (SCVs) were more frequently generated in a continuous flow-cell biofilm than in the planktonic state of E. coli harboring the F plasmid. E. coli SCVs represented typical phenotypic changes such as slower growth, less biofilm formation, and greater resistance to aminoglycoside antibiotics than the parent strain. Genomic and complementation analyses indicated that the small colony phenotype was caused by the insertion of Tn1000, which was originally localized in the F plasmid, into the hemB gene. Furthermore, the Tn1000 insertion was removed from hemB in the revertant, which showed a normal colony phenotype. This study revealed that the F plasmid has the potential to increase genetic variations not only by horizontal gene transfer via F pili, but also by site-specific recombination within a single cell.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-46
Number of pages7
JournalMicrobes and environments
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Genome Analysis Project in Japan for providing ASKA strains. This study was partially supported by the Japan Science and Technology Agency through Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST) to S. O. and by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Numbers JP15K21043 and JP15H01315 to Y. T.


  • Biofilm
  • Escherichia coli
  • F plasmid
  • Small colony variants

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