Genetic transformation of plants by Agrobacterium, which in nature causes neoplastic growths, represents the only known case of trans-kingdom DNA transfer. Furthermore, under laboratory conditions, Agrobacterium can also transform a wide range of other eukaryotic species, from fungi to sea urchins to human cells. How can the Agrobacterium virulence machinery function in such a variety of evolutionarily distant and diverse species? The answer to this question lies in the ability of Agrobacterium to hijack fundamental cellular processes which are shared by most eukaryotic organisms. Our knowledge of these host cellular functions is critical for understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie genetic transformation of eukaryotic cells. This review outlines the bacterial virulence machinery and provides a detailed discussion of seven major biological systems of the host cell-cell surface receptor arrays, cellular motors, nuclear import, chromatin targeting, targeted proteolysis, DNA repair, and plant immunity--thought to participate in the Agrobacterium-mediated genetic transformation.
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