SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • DNA for repair;
  • evolution of sex;
  • microbial evolution;
  • SOS-response;
  • recombination

Horizontal gene transfer mediated by transformation is of central importance in bacterial evolution. However, numerous questions remain about the maintenance of processes that underlie transformation. Most hypotheses for the benefits of transformation focus on what bacteria might do with DNA, but ignore the important fact that transformation is subsumed within the broader process of competence. Accordingly, the apparent benefits of transformation might rely less on recombination than on other potential benefits associated with the broader suite of traits regulated by competence. We examined the importance of this distinction in the naturally competent species Streptococcus pneumoniae, focusing specifically on predictions of the DNA-for-repair hypothesis. We confirm earlier results in other naturally competent species that transformation protects against DNA-damaging stress. In addition, we show that the stress-protection extends to non-DNA-damaging stress. More important, we find that for some forms of stress transformation is not required for cells to benefit from the induction of competence. This rejects the narrowly defined DNA-for-repair hypotheses and provides the first support for Claverys’ hypothesis that competence, but not necessarily transformation, may act as a general process to relieve stress. Our results highlight the need to distinguish benefits of transformation from broader benefits of competence that do not rely on DNA uptake and recombination.