Natural transformation is a mechanism of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) that is conserved in diverse microbial species. During this process, bacteria can take up DNA from the extracellular environment and subsequently integrate this DNA into their genome by homologous recombination. To study natural transformation, we employ Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of the diarrheal disease cholera, as a model system. Also, we have exploited this natural mechanism of HGT to develop novel genetic tools that we employ to further dissect the biology of this major human pathogen and to develop nonpathogenic Vibrio species for biotechnology.
In this seminar I will discuss how we have taken a cell biological approach to study the mechanisms of DNA uptake and DNA integration during natural transformation, which have revealed an unexpected mode of transgenerational nongenetic inheritance during the process. Also, I will discuss how we are employing natural transformation to systematically dissect the carbon sources utilized by V. cholerae during infection of its mammalian host.