DNA-uptake pili of Vibrio cholerae are required for chitin colonization and capable of kin recognition via sequence-specific self-interaction

How bacteria colonize surfaces and how they distinguish the individuals around them are fundamental biological questions. Type IV pili are a widespread and multipurpose class of cell surface polymers. Here we directly visualize the DNA-uptake pilus of Vibrio cholerae, which is produced specifically during growth on its natural habitat—chitinous surfaces. As predicted, these pili are highly dynamic and retract before DNA uptake during competence for natural transformation. Interestingly, DNA-uptake pili can also self-interact to mediate auto-aggregation. This capability is conserved in disease-causing pandemic strains, which typically encode the same major pilin subunit, PilA. Unexpectedly, however, we discovered that extensive strain-to-strain variability in PilA (present in environmental isolates) creates a set of highly specific interactions, enabling cells producing pili composed of different PilA subunits to distinguish between one another. We go on to show that DNA-uptake pili bind to chitinous surfaces and are required for chitin colonization under flow, and that pili capable of self-interaction connect cells on chitin within dense pili networks. Our results suggest a model whereby DNA-uptake pili function to promote inter-bacterial interactions during surface colonization. Moreover, they provide evidence that type IV pili could offer a simple and potentially widespread mechanism for bacterial kin recognition.

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Nature Microbiology, 4, 1545–1557
Jun 10 2019
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 Record created 2019-06-11, last modified 2019-12-05

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