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The term “transduction” is used in several different ways in the sciences. For the purposes of this article, the topic under discussion is a genetic recombination technique used by bacteria for the purposes of acquiring and exchanging genetic material. Transduction is one of many ways in which bacteria can evolve to address changes in their environment and spread positive adaptations. This term means “transfer,” and it can be used to describe the transmission of signals through the nervous system, the transfer of electrons, and a number of other situations.
Bacteria can transfer genetic material in a variety of ways, including vertical gene transfer, in which genetic material is recombined and passed down to another generation, and horizontal gene transfer, in which genetic material is exchanged between members of the same generation. Transduction is an example of a horizontal exchange technique, along with transformation and conjugation.
In transduction, an organism called a bacteriophage enters a bacterium, and the bacterium sends some its DNA along with the organism as a hitchhiker. When the bacteriophage reproduces, this DNA is carried with it, and thus transferred to other bacteria in the area when they are infected. Using transduction, a bacterium can exchange genetic material with many others without needing to come into contact with them.
Only certain bacteriophages are capable of facilitating transduction. Similar specialized organisms can also allow viruses to utilize transduction to exchange genetic material, and transduction can also be used to infect the cells of a host organism, such as a human, so that the genome of the host organism will be altered in the infected cells.
For bacteria, transduction is very important, because it allows the organisms to evolve within a living generation. This means that they can adapt quickly to changing conditions, such as the introduction of an antibiotic, and it explains why some bacteria can be so difficult to treat, because even as they are being bombarded with treatment, they are evolving and changing.
The other methods of horizontal gene transfer are slightly different. Transformation involves the uptake of useful genetic material from the surrounding environment, a trait used by Escherichia coli, while conjugation involves the transfer of genetic material while two bacteria are in physical contact with each other. Transformation happens to be very useful for scientific researchers, because they can force bacteria to absorb genetic material which can be used in a variety of ways.