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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2003 May 1;44(1):67-78. doi: 10.1016/S0168-6496(02)00453-1.

A model for bacterial conjugal gene transfer on solid surfaces.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, Scotland, UK.


Abstract Quantitative models of bacterial conjugation are useful tools in environmental risk assessment and in studies of the ecology and evolution of bacterial communities. We constructed a mathematical model for gene transfer between bacteria growing on a solid surface. The model considers that donor and recipient cells will form separate colonies, which grow exponentially until nutrient exhaustion. Conjugation occurs when donor and recipient colonies meet, all recipient cells becoming transconjugants instantly, after which they act as donors. The model was tested theoretically by computer simulations that followed the histories of individual bacterial colonies and was validated for initial surface coverage of 60% or less, where confluent growth does not occur. Model predictions of final number of donors, recipients and transconjugants were tested experimentally using a filter mating system with two isogenic strains of Pseudomonas fluorescens MON787 acting as donor and recipient of plasmid RP4. Experimental trends resulting from varying donor and recipient inoculum numbers and donor:recipient ratios were well described by the model, although it often overestimated conjugation by 0.5-2 orders of magnitude. Predictions were greatly improved, generally to within half a log unit of experimental values, by consideration of the time for conjugative transfer. The model demonstrates the relationship between spatial separation of cells and nutrient availability on numbers of transconjugants. By providing a mechanistic approach to the study conjugation on surfaces, the model may contribute to the study of gene transfer in natural environments.

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