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Bacteria commonly exchange genetic information by the horizontal transfer of conjugative plasmids

DTI Globalwatch : 17 October, 2006  (Technical Article)
Bacteria commonly exchange genetic information by the horizontal transfer of conjugative plasmids. In gram-negative conjugation, a relaxase enzyme is absolutely required to prepare plasmid DNA for transit into the recipient via a type IV secretion system.
Bacteria commonly exchange genetic information by the horizontal transfer of conjugative plasmids. In gram-negative conjugation, a relaxase enzyme is absolutely required to prepare plasmid DNA for transit into the recipient via a type IV secretion system. Here we report a mutagenesis of the F plasmid relaxase gene traI using in-frame, 31-codon insertions. Phenotypic analysis of our mutant library revealed that several mutant proteins are functional in conjugation, highlighting regions of TraI that can tolerate insertions of a moderate size. We also demonstrate that wild-type TraI, when overexpressed, plays a dominant-negative regulatory role in conjugation, repressing plasmid transfer frequencies 100-fold. Mutant TraI proteins with insertions in a region of approximately 400 residues between the consensus relaxase and helicase sequences did not cause conjugative repression. These unrestrictive TraI variants have normal relaxase activity in vivo, and several have wild-type conjugative functions when expressed at normal levels. We postulate that TraI negatively regulates conjugation by interacting with and sequestering some component of the conjugative apparatus. Our data indicate that the domain responsible for conjugative repression resides in the central region of TraI between the protein's catalytic domains.
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