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Mol Microbiol. 1998 May;28(3):571-82.

Conjugal transfer of chromosomal DNA in Mycobacterium smegmatis.

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Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health and School of Public Health, State University of New York at Albany, David Axelrod Institute, 12201-2002, USA.


The genus Mycobacterium includes the major human pathogens Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae. The development of rational drug treatments for the diseases caused by these and other mycobacteria requires the establishment of basic molecular techniques to determine the genetic basis of pathogenesis and drug resistance. To date, the ability to manipulate and move DNA between mycobacterial strains has relied on the processes of transformation and transduction. Here, we describe a naturally occurring conjugation system present in Mycobacterium smegmatis, which we anticipate will further facilitate the ability to manipulate the mycobacterial genome. Our data rule out transduction and transformation as possible mechanisms of gene transfer in this system and are most consistent with conjugal transfer. We show that recombinants are not the result of cell fusion and that transfer occurs from a distinct donor to a recipient. One of the donor strains is mc(2)155, a highly transformable derivative that is considered the prototype laboratory strain for mycobacterial genetics; the demonstration that it is conjugative should increase its genetic manipulability dramatically. During conjugation, extensive regions of chromosomal DNA are transferred into the recipient and then integrated into the recipient chromosome by multiple recombination events. We propose that DNA transfer is occurring by a mechanism similar to Hfr conjugation in Escherichia coli.

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