Pilin-like proteins in the extremely thermophilic bacterium Thermus thermophilus HB27: implication in competence for natural transformation and links to type IV pilus biogenesis

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2003 Jul;69(7):3695-700. doi: 10.1128/AEM.69.7.3695-3700.2003.


The extreme thermophile Thermus thermophilus HB27 exhibits high frequencies of natural transformation. Although we recently reported identification of the first competence genes in Thermus, the molecular basis of DNA uptake is unknown. A pilus-like structure is assumed to be involved. Twelve genes encoding prepilin-like proteins were identified in three loci in the genome of T. thermophilus. Mutational analyses, described in this paper, revealed that one locus, which contains four genes that encode prepilin-like proteins (pilA1 to pilA4), is essential for natural transformation. Additionally, comZ, a new competence gene with no similarity to known genes, was identified. Analysis of the piliation phenotype revealed wild-type piliation of a pilA1-pilA3Deltakat mutant and a comZ mutant, whereas a pilA4 mutant was found to be completely devoid of pilus structures. These findings, together with the significant similarity of PilA4 to prepilins, led to the conclusion that the T. thermophilus pilus structures are type IV pili. Furthermore, the loss of the transformation and piliation phenotype in the pilA4 mutant suggests that type IV pili are implicated in natural transformation of T. thermophilus HB27.

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fimbriae Proteins / genetics
  • Fimbriae Proteins / metabolism*
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / genetics
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Thermus thermophilus / genetics*
  • Thermus thermophilus / growth & development
  • Thermus thermophilus / metabolism
  • Transformation, Bacterial*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Fimbriae Proteins

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AY116643