Characterization of the Environmental Plasmidome of the Red Sea

Lucy Androsiuk, Tal Shay, Shay Tal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Plasmids contribute to microbial diversity and adaptation, providing microorganisms with the ability to thrive in a wide range of conditions in extreme environments. However, while the number of marine microbiome studies is constantly increasing, very little is known about marine plasmids, and they are very poorly represented in public databases. To extend the repertoire of environmental marine plasmids, we established a pipeline for the de novo assembly of plasmids in the marine environment by analyzing available microbiome metagenomic sequencing data. By applying the pipeline to data from the Red Sea, we identified 362 plasmid candidates. We showed that the distribution of plasmids corresponds to environmental conditions, particularly, depth, temperature, and physical location. At least 7 of the 362 candidates are most probably real plasmids, based on a functional analysis of their open reading frames (ORFs). Only one of the seven has been described previously. Three plasmids were identified in other public marine metagenomic data from different locations all over the world; these plasmids contained different cassettes of functional genes at each location. Analysis of antibiotic and metal resistance genes revealed that the same positions that were enriched with genes encoding resistance to antibiotics were also enriched with resistance to metals, suggesting that plasmids contribute site-dependent phenotypic modules to their ecological niches. Finally, half of the ORFs (50.8%) could not be assigned to a function, emphasizing the untapped potential of the unique marine plasmids to provide proteins with multiple novel functions. IMPORTANCE Marine plasmids are understudied and hence underrepresented in databases. Plasmid functional annotation and characterization is complicated but, if successful, may provide a pool of novel genes and unknown functions. Newly discovered plasmids and their functional repertoire are potentially valuable tools for predicting the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance, providing vectors for molecular cloning and an understanding of plasmid-bacterial interactions in various environments.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • Red Sea
  • antibiotic resistance
  • marine plasmids
  • metal resistance
  • plasmidome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Genetics
  • Immunology and Microbiology (all)
  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology
  • Ecology


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