The naturally transformable bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae is able to take up extracellular DNA and incorporate it into its genome. Maintaining natural transformation within a species requires that the benefits of transformation outweigh its costs. Although much is known about the distribution of natural transformation among bacterial species, little is known about the degree to which transformation frequencies vary within species. Here we find that there is significant variation in transformation frequency between strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae isolated from asymptomatic carriage, and that this variation is not concordant with isolate genetic relatedness. Polymorphism in the signalling system regulating competence is also not causally related to differences in transformation frequency, although this polymorphism does influence the degree of genetic admixture experienced by bacterial strains. These data suggest that bacteria can evolve new transformation frequencies over short evolutionary timescales. This facility may permit cells to balance the potential costs and benefits of transformation by regulating transformation frequency in response to environmental conditions.
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Fitness-associated recombination