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The type VI secretion system of Vibrio cholerae fosters horizontal gene transfer

Science  02 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6217, pp. 63-67
DOI: 10.1126/science.1260064

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Killing, sex, and gene swaps in bacteria

The bacterial type VI secretion system (T6SS) is used by bacteria to inject toxins into neighboring cells to eliminate competition. This molecular machine is thus considered to be a mechanism by which bacteria can exert social control in complex microbial communities. Borgeaud et al. have discovered that in Vibrio cholerae, T6SS genes are co-regulated with genes involved in DNA uptake. Hence, T6SS-dependent killing of other bacteria is directed at neighboring cells, which release their DNA to be taken up by the killer, which can then integrate valuable genes and rapidly evolve, leading to antibiotic resistance or virulence.

Science, this issue p. 63

Abstract

Natural competence for transformation is a common mode of horizontal gene transfer and contributes to bacterial evolution. Transformation occurs through the uptake of external DNA and its integration into the genome. Here we show that the type VI secretion system (T6SS), which serves as a predatory killing device, is part of the competence regulon in the naturally transformable pathogen Vibrio cholerae. The T6SS-encoding gene cluster is under the positive control of the competence regulators TfoX and QstR and is induced by growth on chitinous surfaces. Live-cell imaging revealed that deliberate killing of nonimmune cells via competence-mediated induction of T6SS releases DNA and makes it accessible for horizontal gene transfer in V. cholerae.

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