Cells within Bacillus subtilis biofilms are held in place by an extracellular matrix that contains cell-anchored amyloid fibres, composed of the amyloidogenic protein TasA. As biofilms age they disassemble because the cells release the amyloid fibres. This release appears to be the consequence of incorporation of D-tyrosine, D-leucine, D-tryptophan and D-methionine into the cell wall. Here, we characterize the in vivo roles of an accessory protein TapA (TasA anchoring/assembly protein; previously YqxM) that serves both to anchor the fibres to the cell wall and to assemble TasA into fibres. TapA is found in discrete foci in the cell envelope and these foci disappear when cells are treated with a mixture of D-amino acids. Purified cell wall sacculi retain a functional form of this anchoring protein such that purified fibres can be anchored to the sacculi in vitro. In addition, we show that TapA is essential for the proper assembly of the fibres. Its absence results in a dramatic reduction in TasA levels and what little TasA is left produces only thin fibres that are not anchored to the cell.
Bacillus subtilis chooses between matrix production and spore formation, which are both controlled by the regulator Spo0A~P. We report that metabolism and chromosome copy number dictate which fate is adopted. Conditions that favour low Spo0A~P levels promote matrix production, whereas conditions favouring high levels trigger sporulation. Spo0A~P directs the synthesis of SinI, an antirepressor for the SinR repressor of matrix genes. The regulatory region of sinI contains an activator site that Spo0A~P binds strongly and operators that bind Spo0A~P weakly. Evidence shows that low Spo0A~P levels turn sinI ON and high levels turn sinI OFF and instead switch sporulation ON. Cells in which sinI and sinR were transplanted from their normal position near the chromosome replication terminus to positions near the origin and cells that harboured an extra copy of the genes were blocked in matrix production. Thus, matrix gene expression is sensitive to the number of copies of sinI and sinR. Because cells at the start of sporulation have two chromosomes and matrix-producing cells one, chromosome copy number could contribute to cell-fate determination.
Biofilms are communities of cells held together by a self-produced extracellular matrix typically consisting of protein, exopolysaccharide, and often DNA. A natural signal for biofilm disassembly in Bacillus subtilis is certain d-amino acids, which are incorporated into the peptidoglycan and trigger the release of the protein component of the matrix. d-Amino acids also prevent biofilm formation by the related Gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Here we employed fluorescence microscopy and confocal laser scanning microscopy to investigate how d-amino acids prevent biofilm formation by S. aureus. We report that biofilm formation takes place in two stages, initial attachment to surfaces, resulting in small foci, and the subsequent growth of the foci into large aggregates. d-Amino acids did not prevent the initial surface attachment of cells but blocked the subsequent growth of the foci into larger assemblies of cells. Using protein- and polysaccharide-specific stains, we have shown that d-amino acids inhibited the accumulation of the protein component of the matrix but had little effect on exopolysaccharide production and localization within the biofilm. We conclude that d-amino acids act in an analogous manner to prevent biofilm development in B. subtilis and S. aureus. Finally, to investigate the potential utility of d-amino acids in preventing device-related infections, we have shown that surfaces impregnated with d-amino acids were effective in preventing biofilm growth.
The response regulator Spo0A governs multiple developmental processes in Bacillus subtilis, including most conspicuously sporulation. Spo0A is activated by phosphorylation via a multicomponent phosphorelay. Previous work has shown that Spo0A protein is not rate-limiting for sporulation. Rather, Spo0A is present at high levels in growing cells, rapidly rising to yet higher levels under sporulation-inducing conditions, suggesting that synthesis of the response regulator is subject to a just-in-time control mechanism. Transcription of spo0A is governed by a promoter switching mechanism, involving a vegetative, sigma(A)-recognized promoter P(v) and a sporulation, sigma(H)-recognized promoter P(s) that is under Spo0A approximately P control. The spo0A regulatory region also contains four (including one identified in the present work) conserved elements that conform to the consensus binding site for Spo0A approximately P bindings sites. These are herein designated O(1), O(2), O(3), and O(4) in reverse order of their proximity to the coding sequence. Here we report that O(1) is responsible for repressing P(v) during the transition to stationary phase, that O(2) is responsible for repressing P(s) during growth, that O(3) is responsible for activating P(s) at the start of sporulation, and that O(4) is dispensable for promoter switching. We also report that Spo0A synthesis is subject to a post-transcriptional control mechanism such that translation of mRNAs originating from P(v) is impeded due to RNA secondary structure whereas mRNAs originating from P(s) are fully competent for protein synthesis. We propose that the opposing actions of O(2) and O(3) and the enhanced translatability of mRNAs originating from P(s) create a highly sensitive, self-reinforcing switch that is responsible for producing a burst of Spo0A synthesis at the start of sporulation.
The response regulatory protein Spo0A of Bacillus subtilis is activated by phosphorylation by multiple histidine kinases via a multicomponent phosphorelay. Here we present evidence that the activity of one of the kinases, KinD, depends on the lipoprotein Med, a mutant of which has been known to cause a cannibalism phenotype. We show that the absence of Med impaired and the overproduction of Med stimulated the transcription of two operons (sdp and skf) involved in cannibalism whose transcription is known to depend on Spo0A in its phosphorylated state (Spo0A approximately P). Further, these effects of Med were dependent on KinD but not on kinases KinA, KinB, and KinC. Additionally, we show that deletion or overproduction of Med impaired or enhanced, respectively, biofilm formation and that these effects, too, depended specifically on KinD. Finally, we report that overproduction of Med bypassed the dominant negative effect on transcription of sdp of a truncated KinD retaining the transmembrane segments but lacking the kinase domain. We propose that Med directly or indirectly interacts with KinD in the cytoplasmic membrane and that this interaction is required for KinD-dependent phosphorylation of Spo0A.
A cascade of alternative sigma factors governs the program of developmental gene expression during sporulation in Bacillus subtilis. Little is known, however, about how the early-acting sigma factors are inactivated and replaced by the later-acting factors. Here we identify a small protein, Fin (formerly known as YabK), that is required for efficient switching from sigma(F)- to sigma(G)-directed gene expression in the forespore compartment of the developing sporangium. The fin gene, which is conserved among Bacillus species and species of related genera, is transcribed in the forespore under the control of both sigma(F) and sigma(G). Cells mutant for fin are unable to fully deactivate sigma(F) and, conversely, are unable to fully activate sigma(G). Consistent with their deficiency in sigma(G)-directed gene expression, fin cells are arrested in large numbers following the engulfment stage of sporulation, ultimately forming 50-fold fewer heat-resistant spores than the wild type. Based in part on the similarity of Fin to the anti-sigma(G) factor CsfB (also called Gin), we speculate that Fin is an anti-sigma(F) factor which, by disabling sigma(F), promotes the switch to late developmental gene expression in the forespore.
Bacillus subtilis is able to form architecturally complex biofilms on solid medium due to the production of an extracellular matrix. A master regulator that controls the expression of the genes involved in matrix synthesis is Spo0A, which is activated by phosphorylation via a phosphorelay involving multiple histidine kinases. Here we report that four kinases, KinA, KinB, KinC, and KinD, help govern biofilm formation but that their contributions are partially masked by redundancy. We show that the kinases fall into two categories and that the members of each pair (one pair comprising KinA and KinB and the other comprising KinC and KinD) are partially redundant with each other. We also show that the kinases are spatially regulated: KinA and KinB are active principally in the older, inner regions of the colony, and KinC and KinD function chiefly in the younger, outer regions. These conclusions are based on the morphology of kinase mutants, real-time measurements of gene expression using luciferase as a reporter, and confocal microscopy using a fluorescent protein as a reporter. Our findings suggest that multiple signals from the older and younger regions of the colony are integrated by the kinases to determine the overall architecture of the biofilm community.
Bacteria regulate the frequency and timing of DNA replication initiation by controlling the activity of the replication initiator protein DnaA. SirA is a recently discovered regulator of DnaA in Bacillus subtilis whose synthesis is turned on at the start of sporulation. Here, we demonstrate that SirA contacts DnaA at a patch of 3 residues located on the surface of domain I of the replication initiator protein, corresponding to the binding site used by two unrelated regulators of DnaA found in other bacteria. We show that the interaction of SirA with domain I inhibits the ability of DnaA to bind to the origin of replication. DnaA mutants containing amino acid substitutions of the 3 residues are functional in replication initiation but are immune to inhibition by SirA.
Over the course of more than a century of laboratory experimentation, Bacillus subtilis has become "domesticated," losing its ability to carry out many behaviors characteristic of its wild ancestors. One such characteristic is the ability to form architecturally complex communities, referred to as biofilms. Previous work has shown that the laboratory strain 168 forms markedly attenuated biofilms compared with the wild strain NCIB3610 (3610), even after repair of a mutation in sfp (a gene involved in surfactin production) previously known to impair biofilm formation. Here, we show that in addition to the sfp mutation, mutations in epsC, swrA, and degQ are necessary and sufficient to explain the inability of the laboratory strain to produce robust biofilms. Finally, we show that the architecture of the biofilm is markedly influenced by a large plasmid present in 3610 but not 168 and that the effect of the plasmid can be attributed to a gene we designate rapP. When rapP is introduced into 168 together with wild-type alleles of sfp, epsC, swrA, and degQ, the resulting repaired laboratory strain forms biofilms that are as robust as and essentially indistinguishable in architecture from those of the wild strain, 3610. Thus, domestication of B. subtilis involved the accumulation of four mutations and the loss of a plasmid-borne gene.