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Dev Cell. 2005 Jun;8(6):963-70.

Interactions between inner membrane proteins in donor and recipient cells limit conjugal DNA transfer.

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Department of Molecular Microbiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.


Conjugation enables horizontal transmission of DNA among bacteria, thereby facilitating the rapid spread of genes such as those conferring resistance to antibiotics. Cell-cell contact is required for conjugative DNA transfer but does not ensure its success. The presence of certain plasmids in potential recipient cells inhibits redundant transfer of these plasmids from competent donors despite contact between donor and recipient cells. Here, we used two closely related integrating conjugative elements (ICEs), SXT and R391, to identify genes that inhibit redundant conjugative transfer. Cells containing SXT exclude transfer of a second copy of SXT but not R391 and vice versa. The specific exclusion of SXT and R391 is dependent upon variants of TraG and Eex, ICE-encoded inner membrane proteins in donor and recipient cells, respectively. We identified short sequences within each variant that determine the exquisite specificity of self-recognition; these data suggest that direct interactions between TraG and Eex mediate exclusion.

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