Mechanisms of DNA Uptake by Naturally Competent Bacteria

David Dubnau, Melanie Blokesch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Transformation is a widespread mechanism of horizontal gene transfer in bacteria. DNA uptake to the periplasmic compartment requires a DNA-uptake pilus and the DNA-binding protein ComEA. In the gram-negative bacteria, DNA is first pulled toward the outer membrane by retraction of the pilus and then taken up by binding to periplasmic ComEA, acting as a Brownian ratchet to prevent backward diffusion. A similar mechanism probably operates in the gram-positive bacteria as well, but these systems have been less well characterized. Transport, defined as movement of a single strand of transforming DNA to the cytosol, requires the channel protein ComEC. Although less is understood about this process, it may be driven by proton symport. In this review we also describe various phenomena that are coordinated with the expression of competence for transformation, such as fratricide, the kin-discriminatory killing of neighboring cells, and competence-mediated growth arrest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-237
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual Review of Genetics
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics


  • DNA transport
  • DNA uptake
  • competence
  • fratricide
  • growth arrest
  • neighbor predation
  • transformation


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