Persistence of DNA in the Environment and Its Potential for Bacterial Genetic Transformation

  • W. Wackernagel


Previously it was assumed that naked DNA molecules appearing in bacterial habitats such as in soil, sediment or freshwater and sea water would almost instantaneously be degraded by nucleolytic enzymes. Such enzymes are known to be released from microorganisms including bacteria, yeasts and fungi which live in the terrestrial and aquatic environment. The low molecular weight degradation products of biological macromolecules provided by the action of extracellular enzymes can serve as nutrients for the microorganisms. More recently, experimental data suggest that extracellular DNA in terrestrial environments can persist for considerable time periods. The persistence appears to depend on additional parameters besides the presence and activity of extracellular DNases. Some of these findings will be summarized in the following. Further, the phenomenon of natural genetic transformation in bacteria has been documented for an increasing number and a wide variety of bacterial species (for references, see Lorenz and Wackernagel 1994). Natural transformation is the ability of bacteria to take up DNA actively, to inherit such DNA and to express its genetic information (Lorenz and Wackernagel 1994).


Bacillus Subtilis Natural Transformation Groundwater Aquifer Nonsterile Soil Acinetobacter Calcoaceticus 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ahrenholtz I, Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1994) A conditional suicide system in Escherichia coli based on the intracellular degradation of DNA. Appl Environ Microbiol 60: 3746–3751Google Scholar
  2. Chamier B, Lorenz MG, Wackcrnagel W (1993) Natural transformation of Acinetobacter calcoaceticus by plasmid DNA adsorbed on sand and groundwater aquifer materiaL. Appl Environ Microbiol 59: 1662–1667Google Scholar
  3. Dreiseikelmann B (1994) Translocation of DNA across bacterial membranes. Microbiol Rev 58: 293–316Google Scholar
  4. Dubnau D (1991a) Genetic competence in Bacillus sublilis. Microbiol Rev 55: 395–424Google Scholar
  5. Dubnau D (1991b) The regulation of genetic competence in Bacillus sublilis. Mol Microbiol 5: 11–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Duncan KE, Ferguson N, kimura K, Zhou X, Istock CA (1995) Fine scale genetic and phenotypic in natural populations of Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus licheniformis: implications for bacterial evolution and speciation. Evolution (in press)Google Scholar
  7. Hahn J, Inamine, Kozlov Y, Dubnau D (1993) Characterization of comE, a late competence operon of Bacillus sublilis required for the binding and uptake of transforming DNA. Mol Microbiol 10: 99–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hesselink FT (1983) Adsorption of poly-electrolytes from dilute solution. In: Parfitt GD, Rochester CH (eds) Adsorption from solution at the solid/liquid interface. Academic, London, pp 317–412Google Scholar
  9. Istock CA, Duncan KE, Ferguson E, Zhou X (1992) Sexuality in a natural population of bacteria - Bacillus sublilis challenges the clonal paradigm. Mol Ecol 1: 95–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Khanna M, Stotzky G (1992) Transformation of Bacillus sublilis by DNA bound on montmorillonite and effect of DNase on the transforming ability of bound DNA. Appl Environ Microbiol 58: 1930–1939Google Scholar
  11. Londono-Vallejo JA, Dubnau D (1993) comF, a Bacillus sublilis late competence locus, encodes a protein similar to ATP-dependent RNA7DNA helicases. Mol Microbiol 9: 119–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1987) Adsorption of DNA to sand and variable degradation rates of adsorbed DNA. Appl Environ Microbiol 53: 2948–2952Google Scholar
  13. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1990) Natural genetic transformation of Pseudomonas stutzeri by sand-adsorbed DNA. Arch Microbiol 154: 380–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1991) High frequency of natural genetic transformation of Pseudomonas stutzeri in soil extract supplied with a carbon/energy and a phosphorus source. Appl Environ Microbiol 57: 1246–1251Google Scholar
  15. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1992a) DNA binding to various clay minerals and retarded enzymatic degradation of DNA in a sand/clay microcosm. In: Gene Transfers and Environment. MJ Gauthier (ed) Springer (Berlin, Heidelberg, New York) 115–126Google Scholar
  16. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1992b) Stimulation of natural genetic transformation of Pseudomonas stutzeri in extracts from various soils by nitrogen or phosphorus limitation and influence of temperature and pH. Microbial Releases 1: 173–176Google Scholar
  17. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1993) Transformation as a mechanism for bacterial gene transfer in soil and sediment - studies with a sand/clay microcosm and the cyano- bacterium Synechocystis OL50. In: Trends in Microbial Ecology. R Guerrero and C Pedrós-Alió (eds.) Spanish Society for Microbiolgy, 325–330Google Scholar
  18. Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1994) Bacterial gene transfer by natural genetic transformation in the environment. Microbiol Rev 58: 563–602Google Scholar
  19. Lorenz MG, Aardema BW, Wackernagel W (1988) Highly efficient genetic transformation of Bacillus subtilis attached to sand grains. J Gen Microbiol 134: 107–112Google Scholar
  20. Lorenz MG, Gerjets D, Wackernagel W (1991) Release of transforming plasmid and chromosomal DNA from two cultured soil bacteria. Arch Microbiol 156: 319–326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lorenz MG, Reipschläger K, Wackernagel W (1992) Plasmid transformation of naturally competent Acinetobacter calcoaceticus in non-sterile soil extract and groundwater. Arch Microbiol 157: 355–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Maynard Smith J. Smith NH. O’Rourke M. Spratt BG (1993) How clonal are bacteria? Proc Nad Acad Sci USA 90: 4384–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Paget E, Simonet LJ, Monrozier P (1992) Adsorption of DNA on clay minerals: protection against DNaseI and influence on gene transfer. FEMS Microbiol Lett 97: 31–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Paul JH, Frischer ME, Thurmond JM (1991) Gene transfer in marine water column and sediment microcosms by natural plasmid transformation. Appl Environ Microbiol 57: 1509–1515Google Scholar
  25. Paul JH, Jeffrey WH, David AW, DeFlaun MF, Cazares LH (1989) Turnover of extracellular DNA in eutrophic and oligotrophic freshwater environments of southwest Florida. Appl Environ Microbiol 55: 1823–1828Google Scholar
  26. Paul JH, Thurmond JM, Frischer ME, Cannon JP (1992) Intergeneric natural plasmid transformation between E. coli and a marine Vibrio species. Mol Ecol 1: 37–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Phillips SJ, Dalgarn DS, Young SK (1989) Recombinant DNA in waste water: pBR322 degradation kinetics. J Water Pollut Control Fed 61: 1588 - 1595Google Scholar
  28. Romanowski G, Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1991) Adsorption of plasmid DNA to mineral surfaces and protection against DNaseI. Appl Environ Microbiol S7: 1057–1061Google Scholar
  29. Romanowski G, Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1992) Persistence of free plasmid DNA in soil monitored by various methods, including a transformation assay. Appl Environ Microbiol 58: 3012–3019Google Scholar
  30. Romanowski G, Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1993a) Plasmid DNA in a groundwater aquifer microcosm: adsorption, DNase resistance and natural genetic transformation of Bacillus subtilis. Molec Ecol 2: 171–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Romanowski G, Lorenz MG, Wackernagel W (1993b) Use of polymerase chain reaction and electroporation of Escherichia coli to monitor the persistence of extracellular plasmid DNA introduced into natural soils. Appl Environ Microbiol 59: 3438–3446Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. Wackernagel
    • 1
  1. 1.Genetik, Fachbereich BiologieCarl von Ossietzky Universität OldenburgOldenburgGermany

Personalised recommendations