Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that colonize the human gastric mucosa, possess a large number of genes for restriction-modification (R-M) systems, and essentially, every strain possesses a unique complement of functional and partial R-M systems. Nearly half of the H.pylori strains studied possess an active type IIs R-M system, HpyII, with the recognition sequence GAAGA. Recombination between direct repeats that flank the R-M cassette allows for its deletion whereas strains lacking hpyIIRM can acquire this cassette through natural transformation. We asked whether strains lacking HpyII R-M activity can acquire an active hpyIIRM cassette [containing a 1.4 kb kanamycin resistance (aphA) marker], whether such acquisition is DNase sensitive or resistant and whether restriction barriers limit acquisition of chromosomal DNA. Our results indicate that natural transformation and conjugation-like mechanisms may contribute to the transfer of large (4.8 kb) insertions of chromosomal DNA between H.pylori strains, that inactive or partial R-M systems can be reactivated upon recombination with a functional allele, consistent with their being contingency genes, and that H.pylori R-M diversity limits acquisition of chromosomal DNA fragments of ≥1 kb.
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