Bacterial Transduction: Definition, Process & Advantages

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  • 0:06 Horizontal Gene Transfer
  • 1:27 Mechanisms of…
  • 2:47 Transduction
  • 3:35 Generalized Transduction
  • 4:27 Specialized Transduction
  • 6:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Hartsock

Angela has taught college Microbiology and has a doctoral degree in Microbiology.

Genetic diversity allows organisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions. In this lesson, we will explore bacterial transduction and how it allows bacteria to transfer genes and increase genetic diversity.

Horizontal Gene Transfer

What if you could share genes with your best friend? Maybe you want her straight hair and blue eyes, and your friend wants your tall height and acute sense of smell. Yeah, that probably sounds like a bad science-fiction movie. But in the bacterial world, this is definitely possible.

In bacteria, vertical gene transfer is the transfer or inheritance of genetic material from parent (or mother) cell to offspring cell. This process effectively generates clones of the parent cell. In contrast, horizontal gene transfer describes the ability of bacterial cells to transfer genetic material from one cell to another. This process allows for genetic recombination, or the mixing together of two different pieces of DNA to generate a new unique DNA sequence. In bacteria, this process is crucial for generating genetic diversity within populations. In the environment, conditions are constantly changing, and organisms have to adapt to these changes in order to survive. Using genetic recombination to generate genetic diversity makes it possible for organisms like bacteria to adapt to environmental changes.

Mechanisms of Horizontal Gene Transfer

In bacteria, horizontal gene transfer can occur in one of three ways:

The first is transformation, which is the ability of some cells to take up freely floating DNA found in the environment. Scientists aren't exactly sure how many species of bacteria have this ability, but they do know that natural transformation has contributed to the successful adaptation and diversity of several prominent bacterial species.

The second is conjugation, which allows for the transfer of DNA through a structure called a pilus from one cell to another. Bacterial conjugation can be likened to the mating rituals of other species in the sense that it requires direct cell-to-cell contact and involves the exchange of genetic material.

The final mechanism of horizontal gene transfer is transduction, which uses bacteria viruses to transfer DNA from one cell to another. Transduction does not require direct contact like conjugation. And unlike transformation, it needs a third party to help transfer the gene. Let's explore the process of transduction to get a full understanding of how it works.


We have all heard of a video or image going viral. Well, where do you think that idea or metaphor came from? Nature, of course! Viruses are notorious for their ability to invade a host, hijack the host cellular machinery, and force it to build millions of copies of the virus. These copies are then released and go on to attack new hosts, spreading through populations.

Viruses that infect bacteria are called bacteriophages, which literally translates to 'bacteria-eater.' Sometimes, instead of just infecting and hijacking the host, the virus picks up and transfers some of the host cell's DNA. This process is transduction.

Generalized Transduction

There are two types of transduction. The first is called generalized transduction.

In some cases, the bacteriophage interaction with the bacteria is quite simple - the virus invades, hijacks the host to generate copies of itself, then kills the host cell by popping it like a balloon (called lysis). These new baby bacteriophage then go on to infect and kill other host cells.

During this process, the bacteriophage chops up the host chromosome into many small fragments. When the baby bacteriophages are being assembled, some of these host DNA chunks can accidentally be packaged into the new viral particles. They are then carried to a new host cell, where they are injected and can cause genetic recombination.

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