One for all or all for one: heterogeneous expression and host cell lysis are key to gene transfer agent activity in Rhodobacter capsulatus

Paul C M Fogg, Alexander B Westbye, J Thomas Beatty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The gene transfer agent (RcGTA) of Rhodobacter capsulatus is the model for a family of novel bacteriophage-related genetic elements that carry out lateral transfer of essentially random host DNA. Genuine and putative gene transfer agents have been discovered in diverse genera and are becoming recognized as potentially an important source of genetic exchange and microbial evolution in the oceans. Despite being discovered over 30 years ago, little is known about many essential aspects of RcGTA biology. Here, we validate the use of direct fluorescence reporter constructs, which express the red fluorescent protein mCherry in R. capsulatus. A construct containing the RcGTA promoter fused to mCherry was used to examine the single-cell expression profiles of wild type and RcGTA overproducer R. capsulatus populations, under different growth conditions and growth phases. The majority of RcGTA production clearly arises from a small, distinct sub-set of the population in the wild type strain and a larger sub-set in the overproducer. The most likely RcGTA release mechanism concomitant with this expression pattern is host cell lysis and we present direct evidence for the release of an intracellular enzyme accompanying RcGTA release. RcGTA ORF s is annotated as a 'cell wall peptidase' but we rule out a role in host lysis and propose an alternative function as a key contributor to RcGTA invasion of a target cell during infection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e43772
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Rhodobacter capsulatus

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