From isotopically labeled DNA to fluorescently labeled dynamic pili: building a mechanistic model of DNA transport to the cytoplasmic membrane

Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 2024 Mar 27;88(1):e0012523. doi: 10.1128/mmbr.00125-23. Epub 2024 Mar 11.


SUMMARYNatural competence, the physiological state wherein bacteria produce proteins that mediate extracellular DNA transport into the cytosol and the subsequent recombination of DNA into the genome, is conserved across the bacterial domain. DNA must successfully translocate across formidable permeability barriers during import, including the cell membrane(s) and the cell wall, that are normally impermeable to large DNA polymers. This review will examine the mechanisms underlying DNA transport from the extracellular space to the cytoplasmic membrane. First, the challenges inherent to DNA movement through the cell periphery will be discussed to provide context for DNA transport during natural competence. The following sections will trace the development of a comprehensive model for DNA translocation to the cytoplasmic membrane, highlighting the crucial studies performed over the last century that have contributed to building contemporary DNA import models. Finally, this review will conclude by reflecting on what is still unknown about the process and the possible solutions to overcome these limitations.

Keywords: DNA transport; DNA uptake; T4P; fluorescence microscopy; maleimide labeling; natural competence; natural transformation; pili.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Cell Membrane
  • DNA / metabolism
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial* / genetics
  • Transformation, Bacterial*


  • DNA