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J Bacteriol. 2011 Sep;193(18):4914-24. doi: 10.1128/JB.05396-11. Epub 2011 Jul 22.

Quorum sensing contributes to natural transformation of Vibrio cholerae in a species-specific manner.

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Global Health Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fe´de´rale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.


Although it is a human pathogen, Vibrio cholerae is a regular member of aquatic habitats, such as coastal regions and estuaries. Within these environments, V. cholerae often takes advantage of the abundance of zooplankton and their chitinous molts as a nutritious surface on which the bacteria can form biofilms. Chitin also induces the developmental program of natural competence for transformation in several species of the genus Vibrio. In this study, we show that V. cholerae does not distinguish between species-specific and non-species-specific DNA at the level of DNA uptake. This is in contrast to what has been shown for other Gram-negative bacteria, such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Haemophilus influenzae. However, species specificity with respect to natural transformation still occurs in V. cholerae. This is based on a positive correlation between quorum sensing and natural transformation. Using mutant-strain analysis, cross-feeding experiments, and synthetic cholera autoinducer-1 (CAI-1), we provide strong evidence that the species-specific signaling molecule CAI-1 plays a major role in natural competence for transformation. We suggest that CAI-1 can be considered a competence pheromone.

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