Agrobacterium tumerfaciens is a bacteria generally used by biotechnology engineers around the world to genetically transform plants. In nature, this microbe is liable for inducing a tumor-based pathogenesis known as Crown-Gall disease pictured at right. The cancerous growth is caused by the genetic transformation of the plant by the microbe. Agrobacterium is not only a naturally happening interspecies genetic transformer, but some of the sequences it is inserting were stolen previously from a plant at some point in its history. The Agrobacteria is an excellent model of interspecies gene transfer and genetic construction in action.
Through the transfer of a portion of plasmid DNA called the T-DNA, the Agrobacterium forces the plant cells to make an amino acid (opines) that only the bacteria can metabolize as a fuel source. The single cell organism basically parasitizes the plant by inserting foreign DNA that the plant translates into unusable protein. In addition to the genes that code for opines, the Agrobacterium also inserts other genes to cause a tumor or uncontrolled replication of malformed cells.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this natural interspecies gene transfer is the fact that the genes the bacteria is inserting are under the control of plant regulators, and the tumor-inducing genes are not of a bacterial origin, but plant growth regulators. The Agrobacterium is using genes to execute this parasitism that it was likely not created with, but instead, their very specific use suggests that bacteria generally have the skill to assemble DNA constructs through genetic recombination, and commonly use foreign sequences during such procedures.
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