Figure 1. The DNA-Uptake Apparatus for natural transformation in cyanobacteria (Wendt and Pakrasi, Frontiers in Microbiology, 2019)
Natural transformation, the ability to actively take up naked extracellular DNA, is a valued trait in the field of bacteriology. Whether a bacterial species is cultivated in the laboratory or is left to carve out a place for itself in nature, this process has a significant effect on the organism’s evolutionary fate. Species that are naturally transformable often become the objects of scientific investigation because of the relative ease of genome modification.
Of the hundreds of species of cyanobacteria that have been characterized, fewer than fifteen strains have been experimentally shown to be capable of taking up and incorporating naked extracellular DNA. Although the cellular mechanism of natural competence has been well characterized for other bacterial species such as Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, such investigation has yet to be performed on cyanobacterial species. This project aims to understand the regulatory and biochemical mechanisms by which natural competence is achieved in the subset of naturally transformable cyanobacteria.