Conjugation is a mating process involving bacteria. It involves transfer of genetic information from one bacterial cell to another, and requires physical contact between the two bacteria involved. The contact between the cells is via a protein tube called an F or sex pilus, which is also the conduit for the transfer of the genetic material.
Basic conjugation involves two strains of bacteria: F+ and F-. The difference between these two strains is the presence of a Fertility factor (or F factor) in the F+ cells. The F factor is an episome that contains 19 genes and confers the ability to conjugate upon its host cell. Genetic transfer in conjugation is from an F+ cell to an F- cell, and the genetic material transferred is the F factor itself. Here is an overview of the process:
|Basic conjugation occurs between an F+ cell and an F- cell. The difference between these two types of cells is the presence or absence of the F (fertility) factor, which is a circular DNA molecule independent of the bacterial chromosome (the larger circular molecule.|
|The F+ cell initiates conjugation by extending an F pilus toward the F- cell. Among the genes present on the F factor are the genes encoding the proteins required for pilus construction.|
|The F pilus, when finished, temporarily connects the two cells. On strand of the F factor is nicked, and begins unwinding from the other strand. The nicked strand begins to transfer through the F pilus to the F- cell. As it does so, this strand begins to be replicated, as does circular strand remaining behind in the F+ cell.|
|Eventually, the nicked strand completely passes through to the recipient cell, and is completely replicated. This process produces a new F factor in the recipient cell. The pilus is broken, severing the connection between the two cells. Since both cells now contain an F factor, both cells are F+. The new F+ cell (which was the F- cell, can now initiate conjugation with another F- cell.|
Recombination rarely occurs with this kind of conjugation. This is because the F factor is not homologous to the DNA in the bacterial chromosome. As we will see, however, there are variations of this basic conjugation process that allow recombination to occur.
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