Genetic transformation of bacterial cells required the induction of a state of competence to bind and absorb free DNA molecules. Induction of competence in Haemophilus influenzae was accompanied by the generation on the cell surface of membrane extensions ("blebs") 80 to 100 nm in diameter. When competent cells were returned to normal growth conditions, they shed these structures as free vesicles with a concomitant loss of cellular DNA-binding activity. Purified vesicle preparations retained the ability to bind double-stranded DNA in a nuclease-resistant, salt-stable form. Binding was specific for DNA molecules containing the 11-base pair Haemophilus uptake sequence, required Na+ and divalent cations (Mg2+, Ca2+, or Mn2+), and was inhibited by the presence of EDTA or high concentrations of salt (greater than 0.5 M NaCl). Binding was not stimulated by nucleotide triphosphates and was insensitive to the uncoupling agents dinitrophenol and carbonyl cyanide m-chlorophenylhydrazone. Vesicles contained the major Haemophilus outer membrane proteins and were enriched in several minor proteins
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