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Nature. 2001 Feb 1;409(6820):637-41.

The bacterial conjugation protein TrwB resembles ring helicases and F1-ATPase.

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Institut de Biologia Molecular de Barcelona, CSIC, Spain.


The transfer of DNA across membranes and between cells is a central biological process; however, its molecular mechanism remains unknown. In prokaryotes, trans-membrane passage by bacterial conjugation, is the main route for horizontal gene transfer. It is the means for rapid acquisition of new genetic information, including antibiotic resistance by pathogens. Trans-kingdom gene transfer from bacteria to plants or fungi and even bacterial sporulation are special cases of conjugation. An integral membrane DNA-binding protein, called TrwB in the Escherichia coli R388 conjugative system, is essential for the conjugation process. This large multimeric protein is responsible for recruiting the relaxosome DNA-protein complex, and participates in the transfer of a single DNA strand during cell mating. Here we report the three-dimensional structure of a soluble variant of TrwB. The molecule consists of two domains: a nucleotide-binding domain of alpha/beta topology, reminiscent of RecA and DNA ring helicases, and an all-alpha domain. Six equivalent protein monomers associate to form an almost spherical quaternary structure that is strikingly similar to F1-ATPase. A central channel, 20 A in width, traverses the hexamer.

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