Prokaryotic Information Games: How and When to Take up and Secrete DNA

  • Kerstin StinglEmail author
  • Günther KoraimannEmail author
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 413)


Besides transduction via bacteriophages natural transformation and bacterial conjugation are the most important mechanisms driving bacterial evolution and horizontal gene spread. Conjugation systems have evolved in eubacteria and archaea. In Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, cell-to-cell DNA transport is typically facilitated by a type IV secretion system (T4SS). T4SSs also mediate uptake of free DNA in Helicobacter pylori, while most transformable bacteria use a type II secretion/type IV pilus system. In this chapter, we focus on how and when bacteria “decide” that such a DNA transport apparatus is to be expressed and assembled in a cell that becomes competent. Development of DNA uptake competence and DNA transfer competence is driven by a variety of stimuli and often involves intricate regulatory networks leading to dramatic changes in gene expression patterns and bacterial physiology. In both cases, genetically homogeneous populations generate a distinct subpopulation that is competent for DNA uptake or DNA transfer or might uniformly switch into competent state. Phenotypic conversion from one state to the other can rely on bistable genetic networks that are activated stochastically with the integration of external signaling molecules. In addition, we discuss principles of DNA uptake processes in naturally transformable bacteria and intend to understand the exceptional use of a T4SS for DNA import in the gastric pathogen H. pylori. Realizing the events that trigger developmental transformation into competence within a bacterial population will eventually help to create novel and effective therapies against the transmission of antibiotic resistances among pathogens.


Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) Gene regulatory networks Transformation Bacterial conjugation Integrative conjugative elements (ICE) Conjugative plasmids (CP) DNA uptake 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Reference Laboratory for Campylobacter, Department Biological SafetyFederal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)BerlinGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Molecular Biosciences, University of GrazGrazAustria

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