Chapter 7 : Bacterial Conjugation: Cell-Cell Contact-Dependent Horizontal Gene Spread

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For many years, the F factor was the only conjugative plasmid that had been identified and conjugation was thought to be an unusual biological phenomenon. This chapter focuses on conjugation in gram-negative bacteria. In the gram-negative conjugation systems, DNA-transfer competence can be reached in the absence of recipients. Next, potential recipients must be present and these recipients must be recognized by the donor cell and distinguished from other donors. Recipient cells are very likely identified by pilus contacts involving the pilus tip and surface components on the recipient cell. The chapter states how the replication machinery is coupled to the transporter complex. The conjugative plasmids of gram-negative bacteria are grouped into incompatibility classes. In bacterial conjugation the substrate that is transported is single-stranded plasmid DNA. The conjugation systems described in the chapter are dedicated to DNA transfer, the type IV secretion systems of bacterial pathogens transport proteins. Systems for regulating gene expression and gene transfer by conjugation have evolved to transduce signals to the conjugative plasmid residing in the cytoplasm. The signal that triggers DNA replication and transfer in donors is unknown. Bacterial conjugation mediated by conjugative plasmids is now in a transition phase from the classical view on this important variant of horizontal gene transfer to a modern view. The modern view is that cell-cell contact-dependent gene-transfer systems are related to type IV secretion systems of gram-negative bacteria. The phenomenon of bacterial conjugation, despite its discovery more than fifty years ago, still carries its mysteries.

Citation: Koraimann G. 2004. Bacterial Conjugation: Cell-Cell Contact-Dependent Horizontal Gene Spread , p 111-124. In Miller R, Day M (ed), Microbial Evolution. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817749.ch7

Key Concept Ranking

Type IV Secretion Systems
DNA Synthesis
Type IVB Secretion System
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Image of FIGURE 1

Model of the assembly of Tra proteins in the cell envelope. From the outer membrane a filamentous appendage (the F or sex pilus) extends into the exterior of the donor cell. A complex of proteins bridges the outer and inner membrane, forming a conduit for DNA transfer. A cell-wall-degrading enzyme (LT) enables the penetration of the peptidoglycan by the complex. The coupling protein (D) mediates contact to relaxosomal components via protein-protein interactions and possibly transports DNA through the inner membrane. Characters indicate Tra proteins according to the F-system nomenclature (see Table 2 ). Both the assembly of the secretion machinery and the transfer of the substrate DNA require energy in the form of ATP. ATPases, which are present in all type IV secretion systems, are not shown in this simplified model.

Citation: Koraimann G. 2004. Bacterial Conjugation: Cell-Cell Contact-Dependent Horizontal Gene Spread , p 111-124. In Miller R, Day M (ed), Microbial Evolution. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817749.ch7
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Generic image for table

Transfer proteins and their homologues

Citation: Koraimann G. 2004. Bacterial Conjugation: Cell-Cell Contact-Dependent Horizontal Gene Spread , p 111-124. In Miller R, Day M (ed), Microbial Evolution. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817749.ch7
Generic image for table

DNA and protein transport in type IV secretion systems

Citation: Koraimann G. 2004. Bacterial Conjugation: Cell-Cell Contact-Dependent Horizontal Gene Spread , p 111-124. In Miller R, Day M (ed), Microbial Evolution. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817749.ch7

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