Genetic competence in Escherichia coli requires poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate/calcium polyphosphate membrane complexes and certain divalent cations

J Bacteriol. 1995 Jan;177(2):486-90. doi: 10.1128/jb.177.2.486-490.1995.


In earlier studies of genetic competence in Escherichia coli induced with calcium-containing buffers, a strong correlation was found between transformation efficiency and the formation of poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate/calcium polyphosphate (PHB/Ca2+/PPi) complexes in the plasma membranes. In this study, we replaced Ca2+ with one of a number of other cations--monovalent, divalent, and trivalent--and found significant numbers of transformants (transformation efficiency, > 10(5)/micrograms of pBR322 DNA) only when the cells had high levels of PHB/Ca2+/PPi and the medium contained at least one of the divalent cations Ca2+, Mn2+, Sr2+, or Mg2+. Cells with high levels of the complexes were not competent when the medium did not contain these cations, but the cations were also ineffectual when the cells had few complexes. Surprisingly, Mn, Sr, and Mg were not incorporated into the complexes in place of Ca. These results indicate that PHB/Ca2+/PPi complexes and the above-mentioned divalent cations each have essential but disparate roles in genetic competence. Moreover, the strong selectivity of PHB/PPi for Ca2+ suggests the binding sites in the complexes are ionophoretic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium / physiology*
  • Cations / pharmacology
  • Cations, Divalent / metabolism*
  • Cations, Divalent / pharmacology
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / physiology
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Hydroxybutyrates / metabolism*
  • Polyesters / metabolism*
  • Polyphosphates / metabolism*
  • Transformation, Bacterial / physiology*


  • Cations
  • Cations, Divalent
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Hydroxybutyrates
  • Polyesters
  • Polyphosphates
  • poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate
  • Calcium