To understand the dynamics behind the worldwide spread of the mcr-1 gene, we determined the population structure of Escherichia coli and of mobile genetic elements (MGEs) carrying the mcr-1 gene. After a systematic review of the literature we included 65 E. coli whole genome sequences (WGS), adding 6 recently sequenced travel related isolates, and 312 MLST profiles. We included 219 MGEs described in 7 Enterobacteriaceae species isolated from human, animal and environmental samples. Despite a high overall diversity, 2 lineages were observed in the E. coli population that may function as reservoirs of the mcr-1 gene, the largest of which was linked to ST10, a sequence type known for its ubiquity in human faecal samples and in food samples. No genotypic clustering by geographical origin or isolation source was observed. Amongst a total of 13 plasmid incompatibility types, the IncI2, IncX4 and IncHI2 plasmids accounted for more than 90% of MGEs carrying the mcr-1 gene. We observed significant geographical clustering with regional spread of IncHI2 plasmids in Europe and IncI2 in Asia. These findings point towards promiscuous spread of the mcr-1 gene by efficient horizontal gene transfer dominated by a limited number of plasmid incompatibility types.
Journal: Scientific reports