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Infect Immun. 2005 Nov;73(11):7236-42.

Identification of gmhA, a Yersinia pestis gene required for flea blockage, by using a Caenorhabditis elegans biofilm system.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1530 3rd Avenue S., BBRB Box 19, Birmingham, AL 35294-2170, USA.


Yersinia pestis, the cause of bubonic plague, blocks feeding by its vector, the flea. Recent evidence indicates that blockage is mediated by an in vivo biofilm. Y. pestis and the closely related Yersinia pseudotuberculosis also make biofilms on the cuticle of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which block this laboratory animal's feeding. Random screening of Y. pseudotuberculosis transposon insertion mutants with a C. elegans biofilm assay identified gmhA as a gene required for normal biofilms. gmhA encodes phosphoheptose isomerase, an enzyme required for synthesis of heptose, a conserved component of lipopolysaccharide and lipooligosaccharide. A Y. pestis gmhA mutant was constructed and was severely defective for C. elegans biofilm formation and for flea blockage but only moderately defective in an in vitro biofilm assay. These results validate use of the C. elegans biofilm system to identify genes and pathways involved in Y. pestis flea blockage.

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