Streptococcus pneumoniae is a human commensal and the causative agent of pneumococcal disease. Pneumococci are naturally competent – able to uptake exogenous DNA from the environment and incorporate it into their genome through homologous and non-homologous recombination. Recombination has significantly shaped the evolutionary history of S. pneumoniae, as it allows pneumococci to rapidly adapt to interventions such as antibiotic therapy or vaccine introduction. Recombination frequencies vary considerably across pneumococcal populations; yet the underlying mechanisms for these variations are not well understood. Entry and exit into competence, a state in which the cell can uptake DNA, is tightly regulated through transcriptional changes. To elucidate differences in transformation frequency among strains as well as the underlying genetic mechanisms, we carried out in-vitro competence assays and measured gene expression changes during the competent state using RNA sequencing of strains belonging to Serotype 3 clonal complex (CC) 180 and a non-CC180 comparison. We observed consistent differences in transformation frequencies among groups, which correlated with variation in differentially expressed genes during competence. While all strains exhibited a similar response to competence stimulating peptide (CSP) for early competence genes, we observed variation in expression of late competence genes, which encode the DNA uptake apparatus, DNA repair and recombination proteins needed for recombination. We also observed differences in expression of genes linked to bacteriocin production, which may partially explain observed population-level differences. Further genomic analysis suggests variation in promoter sequences governing late competence genes may be slowing transition from early to late components of the competence pathway. Additional studies are needed to assess the phenotypic impact of genomic variations. Overall, we show that there is considerable variation in competence even among closely related strains and that this variation may be the result of subtle genomic differences.


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Graduation Date





Azarian, Taj


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Medicine


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program





CFE0008900; DP0026179



Release Date

December 2022

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Masters Thesis (Campus-only Access)


College of Medicine