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. 2016 Feb;62(1):71-9.
doi: 10.1007/s00294-015-0514-x. Epub 2015 Sep 2.

Multifaceted Roles of Extracellular DNA in Bacterial Physiology

Free PMC article

Multifaceted Roles of Extracellular DNA in Bacterial Physiology

Dina Vorkapic et al. Curr Genet. .
Free PMC article


In textbooks, DNA is generally defined as the universal storage material for genetic information in all branches of life. Beyond this important intracellular role, DNA can also be present outside of living cells and is an abundant biopolymer in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The origin of extracellular DNA in such ecological niches is diverse: it can be actively secreted or released by prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells by means of autolysis, apoptosis, necrosis, bacterial secretion systems or found in association with extracellular bacterial membrane vesicles. Especially for bacteria, extracellular DNA represents a significant and convenient element that can be enzymatically modulated and utilized for multiple purposes. Herein, we discuss briefly the main origins of extracellular DNA and the most relevant roles for the bacterial physiology, such as biofilm formation, nutrient source, antimicrobial means and horizontal gene transfer.

Keywords: Competence; Neutrophil extracellular traps; Nucleoside transporters; Nutrient acquisition; Transition fitness; Virulence.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Physiological implications of extracellular DNA (eDNA). Bacteria encounter eDNA, the ubiquitous biopolymer, within the terrestrial and aquatic environments. Pathogenic microorganisms also meet significant amounts of eDNA in the host during infection. Bacteria can utilize eDNA dependent on the environmental condition as nutrient source, for horizontal gene transfer or as biofilm matrix component. By means of degradative enzymes they can not only modulate the polymer, but also evade the innate immune defense mechanism based on eDNA

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