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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1993 Dec 15;90(24):11538-42.

Site-specific cleavage and joining of single-stranded DNA by VirD2 protein of Agrobacterium tumefaciens Ti plasmids: analogy to bacterial conjugation.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Molekulare Genetik, Abteilung Schuster, Berlin-Dahlem, Federal Republic of Germany.


As an early stage of plant transformation by Agrobacterium tumefaciens, the Ti plasmid is nicked at the border sequences that delimit the T-DNA. Cleavage results in covalent attachment of VirD2 to the 5' terminal of the nicked strand by a process resembling initiation of DNA transfer that occurs in the donor cell during bacterial conjugation. We demonstrate that this cleavage can be reproduced in vitro: VirD2 protein, the border-cleaving enzyme, was overproduced and purified. Cleavage assays were performed with single-stranded oligodeoxyribonucleotides encompassing the Ti plasmid border region or the transfer origin's nick region of the conjugative plasmid RP4. VirD2 of pTiC58 cleaves both border- and nick region-containing oligonucleotides. However, the relaxase TraI of RP4 can cut only the cognate nick regions. The respective proteins remain covalently bound to the 5' end of the cleavage sites, leaving the 3' termini unmodified. VirD2-mediated oligonucleotide cleavage was demonstrated to be an equilibrium reaction that allows specific joining of cleavage products restoring border and nick regions, respectively. The possible role of VirD2 in T-DNA integration into the plant cell's genome is discussed in terms of less stringent target-sequence requirements.

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