Active human and porcine serum induce competence for genetic transformation in the emerging zoonotic pathogen streptococcus suis

Ferrando, Maria Laura; Gussak, Alex; Mentink, Saskia; Gutierrez, Marcela Fernandez; Baarlen, Peter van; Wells, Jerry Mark


The acquisition of novel genetic traits through natural competence is a strategy used by bacteria in microbe-rich environments where microbial competition, antibiotics, and host immune defenses threaten their survival. Here, we show that virulent strains of Streptococcus suis, an important zoonotic agent and porcine pathogen, become competent for genetic transformation with plasmid or linear DNA when cultured in active porcine and human serum. Competence was not induced in active fetal bovine serum, which contains less complement factors and immunoglobulins than adult serum and was strongly reduced in heat-treated or low-molecular weight fractions of active porcine serum. Late competence genes, encoding the uptake machinery for environmental DNA, were upregulated in the active serum. Competence development was independent of the early competence regulatory switch involving XIP and ComR, as well as sigma factor ComX, suggesting the presence of an alternative stress-induced pathway for regulation of the late competence genes required for DNA uptake.