This study assessed the frequency of transfer of two mobile genetic elements coding for virulence determinants and antibiotic resistance factors, into food associated enterococci during fermentation processes. First, the transfer of the pheromone-inducible pCF10 plasmid, carrying tetracycline resistance and aggregation substance (AS) as virulence factor, between clinical and food strains of Enterococcus faecalis, was investigated in models of cheese and fermented sausage. The experiments demonstrated that even in the absence of selective tetracycline pressure, plasmid pCF10 was transferred from E. faecalis OG1rf cells to food strain E. faecalis BF3098c and that the plasmid subsequently persisted in these environments. Very high frequency of transfer was observed in sausage (10-3/recipient) if compared to cheese (10-6) and plate mating (10-4). Transconjugants were subsequently verified by PCR. The second transmissible element was the plasmid harbouring the vancomycin resistance (VanA phenotype) from E. faecalis A256. The transfer of this antibiotic resistance to a food strain of E. faecalis was studied in vitro and in food models. Although the transfer of vancomycin resistance was achieved in all the environments, the highest conjugation frequencies were observed during the ripening of fermented sausages, reaching 10-3transconjugants/recipient cell. PCR confirmed the transfer of the VanA genotype into a food associated Enterococcus strain. This study showed that even in the absence of selective pressure, mobile genetic elements carrying antibiotic resistance and virulence determinants can be transferred at high frequency to food associated enterococci during cheese and sausage fermentation. © 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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