Mutations were constructed by site-directed mutagenesis in the relaxase operon of the broad-host-range plasmid RP4. The mutations were constructed in smaller plasmids, recombined into the 60-kb RP4 plasmid, and tested for their ability to transfer. The relaxase operon contains the transfer genes traJ, traH, and traI, which are involved in nicking at the transfer origin to generate the single strand destined to be transferred to the recipient cell. In the first mutant, the C terminus of TraI was truncated, leaving TraH intact. This mutant decreased transfer by approximately 500-fold in Escherichia coli, and the traI mutation could be complemented by a wild-type copy of traI in trans in the donor. The traI mutation similarly decreased transfer between a variety of gram-negative bacteria. A site-specific mutation was made by the polymerase chain reaction-based unique-site mutagenesis procedure to alter the start site of traH. This mutation had no effect on intraspecific E. coli transfer but reduced transfer by up to sevenfold for some gram-negative bacteria. The traH mutation had no effect on plasmid stability. Thus, neither TraH nor the C terminus of TraI is required for conjugative transfer, but both increase mating efficiency in some hosts
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