Gene exchange between individuals can lead to profound evolutionary effects at both the genomic and population levels. These effects have sparked widespread interest in examining the specific adaptive benefits of recombination. Although this work has primarily focused on the benefits of sex in eukaryotes, it is assumed that similar benefits of genetic exchange apply across eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Here we report a direct test of this assumption using the naturally transformable human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori as a model organism. We show that genetic exchange accelerates adaptation to a novel laboratory environment within bacterial populations and that a general adaptive advantage exists for naturally transformable strains when transfer occurs among conspecific backgrounds. This finding demonstrates that there are generalized benefits to adaptation in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes even though the underlying processes are mechanistically different.