A set of abundant nucleoid-associated proteins (NAPs) play key functions in organizing the bacterial chromosome and regulating gene transcription globally. Histone-like nucleoid structuring protein (H-NS) is representative of a family of NAPs that are widespread across bacterial species. They have drawn extensive attention due to their crucial function in gene silencing in bacterial pathogens. Recent rapid progress in single-molecule manipulation and imaging technologies has made it possible to directly probe DNA binding by H-NS, its impact on DNA conformation and topology, and its competition with other DNA-binding proteins at the single-DNA-molecule level. Here, we review recent findings from such studies, and provide our views on how these findings yield new insights into the understanding of the roles of H-NS family members in DNA organization and gene silencing.
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