Horizontal dissemination of the genes encoding extended spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs) via conjugative plasmids is facilitating the increasingly widespread resistance of pathogens to beta-lactam antibiotics. However, there is relatively little known about the regulatory factors and mechanisms that govern the spread of these plasmids. Here, we carried out a high-throughput, transposon insertion site sequencing analysis (TnSeq) to identify genes that enable the maintenance and transmission of pESBL, an R64 (IncI1)-related resistance plasmid that was isolated from Escherichia coli O104:H4 linked to a recent large outbreak of gastroenteritis. With a few exceptions, the majority of the genes identified as required for maintenance and transmission of pESBL matched those of their previously defined R64 counterparts. However, our analyses of the high-density transposon insertion library in pESBL also revealed two very short and linked regions that constitute a previously unrecognized regulatory system controlling spread of IncI1 plasmids. In addition, we investigated the function of the pESBL-encoded M.EcoGIX methyltransferase, which is also encoded by many other IncI1 and IncF plasmids. This enzyme proved to protect pESBL from restriction in new hosts, suggesting it aids in expanding the plasmid's host range. Collectively, our work illustrates the power of the TnSeq approach to enable rapid and comprehensive analyses of plasmid genes and sequences that facilitate the dissemination of determinants of antibiotic resistance.
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