I. MICROBIAL GENETICS
G. Genetic Recombination in Bacteria
LEARNING OBJECTIVES FOR THIS SECTION
Horizontal Gene Transfer in Bacteria (def)
Horizontal gene transfer (def), also known as lateral gene transfer, is a process in which an organism transfers genetic material to another organism that is not its offspring. The ability of Bacteria and Archaea to adapt to new environments as a part of bacterial evolution most frequently results from the acquisition of new genes through horizontal gene transfer rather than by the alteration of gene functions through mutations. (It is estimated that as much as 20% of the genome of Escherichia coli originated from horizontal gene transfer.)
There are three mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer in bacteria: transformation, transduction, and conjugation. The most common mechanism for horizontal gene transmission among bacteria, especially from a donor bacterial species to different recipient species, is conjugation. Although bacteria can acquire new genes through transformation and transduction, this is usually a more rare transfer among bacteria of the same species or closely related species.
We will now look at transformation.
1. Transformation (def)
Transformation is a form of genetic recombination in which a DNA fragment from a dead, degraded bacterium enters a competent recipient bacterium and is exchanged for a piece of DNA of the recipient. Transformation usually involves only homologous recombination, a recombination of homologous DNA sequences having nearly the same nucleotide sequences. Typically this involves similar bacterial strains or strains of the same bacterial species.
A few bacteria, such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Neisseria meningitidis, Hemophilus influenzae, Legionella pneomophila, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Helicobacter pylori tend to be naturally competent and transformable. Competent bacteria are able to bind much more DNA than noncompetent bacteria. Some of these genera also undergo autolysis that then provides DNA for homologous recombination. In addition, some competent bacteria kill noncompetent ones to release DNA for transformation.
During transformation, DNA fragments (usually about 10 genes long) are released from a dead degraded bacterium and bind to DNA binding proteins on the surface of a competent living recipient bacterium. Depending on the bacterium, either both strands of DNA penetrate the recipient, or a nuclease degrades one strand of the fragment and the remaining DNA strand enters the recipient. This DNA fragment from the donor is then exchanged for a piece of the recipient's DNA by means of RecA proteins. This involves breakage and reunion of paired DNA segments as seen in (see Fig. 1). Transformation is summarized in Figs. 2A through 2E.
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