A pilus (Latin; plural : pili) is a hairlike structure on the surface of a cell, especially Gram-negative bacteria, a protein appendage required for bacterial conjugation.
Despite the name "sex pilus", this has nothing to do with sexual reproduction or mating, nor is it the bacterial equivalent of a penis; such misnomers are used quite frequently in describing the process, and while may prove useful in understanding underlying concepts are misleading nonetheless.
Bacterial conjugation is often incorrectly regarded as the bacterial equivalent of sexual reproduction or mating.
When conjugation is initiated, via a mating signal, a complex of proteins called the relaxosome creates a nick in one plasmid DNA strand at the origin of transfer, or oriT.
The remaining strand is replicated, either independent of conjugative action (vegetative replication, beginning at the oriV) or in concert with conjugation (conjugative replication similar to the rolling circle replication of lambda phage).
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