Resistance to A
g(I) Cations in Bacteria: Environments, Genes and
Bacterial resistance to Ag(I) has been reported periodically with isolates from many environments where toxic levels of silver might be expected to occur, but initial reports were limited to the occurrence of resistant bacteria. The availability of silver-resistance conferring DNA sequences now allow genetic and mechanistic studies that had basically been missing. The genes determining Ag(I) resistance were sequenced from a plasmid found in a burn ward isolate. The 14.2 kb determinant contains seven recognized genes, arranged in three mRNA transcriptional units. The silE gene determines an extracellular (periplasmic space) metal-binding protein of 123 amino acids, including ten histidine residues implicated in Ag(I) binding. SilE is homologous to PcoE, of copper resistance. The next two genes, silR and silS, determine a two protein, histidine-kinase membrane sensor and aspartyl phosphate transcriptional responder, similar to other two component systems such as CzcR and CzcS (for cadmium, zinc and cobalt resistance) and PcoR and PcoS (for copper resistance). The remaining four genes, silCBAP, are co-transcribed and appear to determine efflux, with SilCBA homologous to CzcCBA, a three component cation/proton antiporter, and SilP a novel P-type ATPase with a amino-terminal histidine-rich cation-specificity region. The effects of increasing concentrations and growth medium halides have been characterized, with lower concentrations facilitating resistance and higher concentrations toxicity. The properties of this unique Ag(I)-binding SilE protein are being characterized. Sequences similar to the silver-resistance DNA are being characterized by Southern blot DNA/DNA hybridization, PCR in vitro DNA synthesis and DNA sequencing. More than 25 additional closely related sequences have been identified in bacteria from diverse sources. Initial DNA sequencing results shows approximately 5-20% differences in DNA sequences.