Transformation by horizontal gene transfer has been an underestimated factor in the evolution of life on earth. For example, the rapid emergence of penicillin resistance among pneumococcal strains is due to their natural ability to become competent for natural transformation, i.e. to take up naked DNA from the environment. This property enables pneumococci to exchange genes with their siblings, or members of closely related species. To be able to control the spread of antibiotic resistance and other virulence genes it is important to understand how natural transformation contributes to the dissemination of these genes.
Natural transformation in pneumococci also represents a prominent example of quorum-sensing-based gene regulation, where bacteria communicate via the export of small peptide pheromones. The group aims to understand the molecular details of such quorum-sensing-based gene regulation, and eventually to control such mechanisms.