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J Bacteriol. 2007 Oct;189(20):7254-61. Epub 2007 Aug 10.

Identification of the origin of transfer (oriT) and DNA relaxase required for conjugation of the integrative and conjugative element ICEBs1 of Bacillus subtilis.

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Department of Biology, Building 68-530, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Integrative and conjugative elements (ICEs), also known as conjugative transposons, are mobile genetic elements that can transfer from one bacterial cell to another by conjugation. ICEBs1 is integrated into the trnS-leu2 gene of Bacillus subtilis and is regulated by the SOS response and the RapI-PhrI cell-cell peptide signaling system. When B. subtilis senses DNA damage or high concentrations of potential mating partners that lack the element, ICEBs1 excises from the chromosome and can transfer to recipients. Bacterial conjugation usually requires a DNA relaxase that nicks an origin of transfer (oriT) on the conjugative element and initiates the 5'-to-3' transfer of one strand of the element into recipient cells. The ICEBs1 ydcR (nicK) gene product is homologous to the pT181 family of plasmid DNA relaxases. We found that transfer of ICEBs1 requires nicK and identified a cis-acting oriT that is also required for transfer. Expression of nicK leads to nicking of ICEBs1 between a GC-rich inverted repeat in oriT, and NicK was the only ICEBs1 gene product needed for nicking. NicK likely mediates conjugation of ICEBs1 by nicking at oriT and facilitating the translocation of a single strand of ICEBs1 DNA through a transmembrane conjugation pore.

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