Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Theme issue ‘The secret lives of microbial mobile genetic elements’ compiled and edited by James P. J. Hall, Ellie Harrison and David Baltrus

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) makes a powerful contribution to microbial evolution, enabling microbes to rapidly adapt to environmental changes by acquiring clinically- and ecologically-important traits like antibiotic resistance, bioremediation, or virulence. HGT is mainly driven by the activity of mobile genetic elements (MGEs), such as plasmids, transposons, and bacteriophages, which can have distinct fitness ‘interests’ and evolutionary trajectories as semi-autonomous entities living in symbiosis with microbes. Besides accelerating HGT, MGEs interact with one another in multifarious ways both competitive and collaborative, while the functions encoded by MGEs represent a powerful molecular toolkit which has been repurposed by microbes for various services including intraspecific competition. In this theme issue, we take an ‘MGE-eye view’ of microbiology, reflecting the increasing appreciation of the ubiquity, impact, versatility, and diversity of MGEs.

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Research articles
Translational demand is not a major source of plasmid-associated fitness costs
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200463

Research articles
Experimental evolution of the megaplasmid pMPPla107 in Pseudomonas stutzeri enables identification of genes contributing to sensitivity to an inhibitory agent
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200474

Research articles
Host life-history traits influence the distribution of prophages and the genes they carry
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200465

Research articles
Transposable elements promote the evolution of genome streamlining
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200477

Research articles
Harmful behaviour through plasmid transfer: a successful evolutionary strategy of bacteria harbouring conjugative plasmids
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200473

Review articles
Why are rhizobial symbiosis genes mobile?
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200471

Research articles
Gene sharing among plasmids and chromosomes reveals barriers for antibiotic resistance gene transfer
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200467

Research articles
Intraspecific antagonism through viral toxin encoded by chronic Sulfolobus spindle-shaped virus
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200476

Research articles
CRISPR-Cas is associated with fewer antibiotic resistance genes in bacterial pathogens
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200464

Opinion piece
Why do plasmids manipulate the expression of bacterial phenotypes?
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200461

Research articles
To catch a hijacker: abundance, evolution and genetic diversity of P4-like bacteriophage satellites
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200475

Research articles
Conjugative plasmid transfer is limited by prophages but can be overcome by high conjugation rates
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200470

Research articles
Plasmid co-infection: linking biological mechanisms to ecological and evolutionary dynamics
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200478

Research articles
Hidden diversity of double-stranded DNA phages in symbiotic Rhizobium species
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200468

Review articles
What makes a megaplasmid?
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200472

Research articles
Diversification of plasmids in a genus of pathogenic and nitrogen-fixing bacteria
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200466

Opinion piece
New perspectives on mobile genetic elements: a paradigm shift for managing the antibiotic resistance crisis
Published:29 November 2021Article ID:20200462