Lysates containing folded chromosomes of competent Bacillus subtilis were prepared. The chromosomes were supercoiled, as indicated by the biphasic response of their sedimentation rates to increasing concentrations of ethidium bromide. Limited incubation of the lysates with increasing concentrations of ribonucleases resulted in a gradual decrease in the sedimentation velocity of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) until finally a constant S value was reached. Incubation with sonicated, 4,5',8-trimethylpsoralen-monoadducted, denatured, homologous donor DNA molecules at 37 degrees C and concomitant irradiation with long-wave ultraviolet light of the nucleoid-containing lysates resulted in the formation of complexes of the donor DNA molecules and the recipient chromosomes. This complex formation was stimulated when nucleoids were previously (i) unfolded by ribonuclease incubation, (ii) (partially) relaxed by X irradiation, or (iii) subjected to both treatments. Monoadducts were not essential. On the other hand, the complex-forming capacity of recipient chromosomes previously cross-linked by 4,5',8-trimethylpsoralen diadducts was greatly reduced, suggesting that strand separation of the recipient molecule was involved in the formation of the complex. None of these effects has been observed when heterologous (Escherichia coli) donor DNA has been used. When the same kind of experiments were carried out at 70 degrees C, donor-recipient DNA complexes were also formed and required strand separation and homology similar to donor-recipient complex formation at 37 degrees C. However, in contrast to what was found at 37 degrees C, unfolding plus relaxation of the nucleoids, as well as the absence of monoadducts in the donor DNA fragments, resulted in a decrease in complex formation. On the basis of these results, we assume that superhelicity can promote the in vitro assimilation of single-stranded donor DNA fragments by nucleoids of competents B. subtilis cells at 70 degrees C, but that at 37 degrees C a different mechanism is involved
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