The acquisition of novel genetic traits by natural competence is a strategy used by bacteria in microbe-rich environments including animal or human hosts where microbial competition, antibiotics and host immune defences threaten their survival. We show here that several virulent strains of Streptococcus suis, an important porcine pathogen and zoonotic agent, become naturally competent for genetic transformation with plasmid or genomic DNA when cultured in active porcine and human serum, but not when it is pre-heated for 30 minutes at 56°C to inactivate complement. Competence is also not induced in active fetal bovine serum, which contains less complement factors and immunoglobulins than adult serum. Late competence genes, encoding the uptake machinery for environmental DNA, were highly upregulated in active serum. Competence development was independent of the early competence regulatory switch suggesting the presence of an alternative stress-induced pathway for regulation of the transformasome, a type 4-like pilus DNA binding and transport apparatus.
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Complement active human and porcine serum induces natural competence for genetic transformation in the emerging zoonotic pathogen Streptococcus suis