Bacterial conjugation

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Bacterial conjugation is the transfer of genetic material between bacterial cells by direct cell-to-cell contact or by a bridge-like connection between two cells.[1] Discovered in 1946 by Joshua Lederberg and Edward Tatum,[2] conjugation is a mechanism of horizontal gene transfer as are transformation and transduction although these two other mechanisms do not involve cell-to-cell contact.[3]

Bacterial conjugation is often incorrectly regarded as the bacterial equivalent of sexual reproduction or mating since it involves the exchange of genetic material. During conjugation the donor cell provides a conjugative or mobilizable genetic element that is most often a plasmid or transposon.[4][5] Most conjugative plasmids have systems ensuring that the recipient cell does not already contain a similar element.

The genetic information transferred is often beneficial to the recipient. Benefits may include antibiotic resistance, xenobiotic tolerance or the ability to use new metabolites.[6] Such beneficial plasmids may be considered bacterial endosymbionts. Other elements, however, may be viewed as bacterial parasites and conjugation as a mechanism evolved by them to allow for their spread.

Contents

Mechanism

The prototypical conjugative plasmid is the F-plasmid, or F-factor.[1] The F-plasmid is an episome (a plasmid that can integrate itself into the bacterial chromosome by homologous recombination) with a length of about 100 kb. It carries its own origin of replication, the oriV, and an origin of transfer, or oriT.[4] There can only be one copy of the F-plasmid in a given bacterium, either free or integrated, and bacterium that possess a copy are called F-positive or F-plus (denoted F+). Cells that lack F plasmids are called F-negative or F-minus (F-) and as such can function as recipient cells.

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