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Microbiol Rev. 1994 Jun;58(2):162-210.

Analysis of the sequence and gene products of the transfer region of the F sex factor.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


Bacterial conjugation results in the transfer of DNA of either plasmid or chromosomal origin between microorganisms. Transfer begins at a defined point in the DNA sequence, usually called the origin of transfer (oriT). The capacity of conjugative DNA transfer is a property of self-transmissible plasmids and conjugative transposons, which will mobilize other plasmids and DNA sequences that include a compatible oriT locus. This review will concentrate on the genes required for bacterial conjugation that are encoded within the transfer region (or regions) of conjugative plasmids. One of the best-defined conjugation systems is that of the F plasmid, which has been the paradigm for conjugation systems since it was discovered nearly 50 years ago. The F transfer region (over 33 kb) contains about 40 genes, arranged contiguously. These are involved in the synthesis of pili, extracellular filaments which establish contact between donor and recipient cells; mating-pair stabilization; prevention of mating between similar donor cells in a process termed surface exclusions; DNA nicking and transfer during conjugation; and the regulation of expression of these functions. This review is a compendium of the products and other features found in the F transfer region as well as a discussion of their role in conjugation. While the genetics of F transfer have been described extensively, the mechanism of conjugation has proved elusive, in large part because of the low levels of expression of the pilus and the numerous envelope components essential for F plasmid transfer. The advent of molecular genetic techniques has, however, resulted in considerable recent progress. This summary of the known properties of the F transfer region is provided in the hope that it will form a useful basis for future comparison with other conjugation systems.

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