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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2002 Feb;68(2):772-83.

Osmotically regulated synthesis of the compatible solute ectoine in Bacillus pasteurii and related Bacillus spp.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Laboratory for Microbiology, Philipps University Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch Strasse, D-35032 Marburg, Federal Republic of Germany.


By using natural-abundance (13)C-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) analysis we have investigated the types of compatible solutes that are synthesized de novo in a variety of Bacillus species under high-osmolality growth conditions. Five different patterns of compatible solute production were found among the 13 Bacillus species we studied. Bacillus subtilis, B. licheniformis, and B. megaterium produced proline; B. cereus, B. circulans, B. thuringiensis, Paenibacillus polymyxa, and Aneurinibacillus aneurinilyticus synthesized glutamate; B. alcalophilus, B. psychrophilus, and B. pasteurii synthesized ectoine; and Salibacillus (formerly Bacillus) salexigens produced both ectoine and hydroxyectoine, whereas Virgibacillus (formerly Bacillus) pantothenticus synthesized both ectoine and proline. Hence, the ability to produce the tetrahydropyrimidine ectoine under hyperosmotic growth conditions is widespread within the genus Bacillus and closely related taxa. To study ectoine biosynthesis within the group of Bacillus species in greater detail, we focused on B. pasteurii. We cloned and sequenced its ectoine biosynthetic genes (ectABC). The ectABC genes encode the diaminobutyric acid acetyltransferase (EctA), the diaminobutyric acid aminotransferase (EctB), and the ectoine synthase (EctC). Together these proteins constitute the ectoine biosynthetic pathway, and their heterologous expression in B. subtilis led to the production of ectoine. Northern blot analysis demonstrated that the ectABC genes are genetically organized as an operon whose expression is strongly enhanced when the osmolality of the growth medium is raised. Primer extension analysis allowed us to pinpoint the osmoregulated promoter of the B. pasteurii ectABC gene cluster. HPLC analysis of osmotically challenged B. pasteurii cells revealed that ectoine production within this bacterium is finely tuned and closely correlated with the osmolality of the growth medium. These observations together with the osmotic control of ectABC transcription suggest that the de novo synthesis of ectoine is an important facet in the cellular adaptation of B. pasteurii to high-osmolarity surroundings.

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