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Microbiology. 2008 Sep;154(Pt 9):2887-95. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.2008/018457-0.

Strain variation in ppGpp concentration and RpoS levels in laboratory strains of Escherichia coli K-12.

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  • 1Departamento de Microbiologia, Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo-SP, Brazil.


Laboratory strains and natural isolates of Escherichia coli differ in their level of stress resistance due to strain variation in the level of the sigma factor sigma(S) (or RpoS), the transcriptional master controller of the general stress response. We found that the high level of RpoS in one laboratory strain (MC4100) was partially dependent on an elevated basal level of ppGpp, an alarmone responding to stress and starvation. The elevated ppGpp was caused by two mutations in spoT, a gene associated with ppGpp synthesis and degradation. The nature of the spoT allele influenced the level of ppGpp in both MC4100 and another commonly used K-12 strain, MG1655. Introduction of the spoT mutation into MG1655 also resulted in an increased level of RpoS, but the amount of RpoS was lower in MG1655 than in MC4100 with either the wild-type or mutant spoT allele. In both MC4100 and MG1655, high ppGpp concentration increased RpoS levels, which in turn reduced growth with poor carbon sources like acetate. The growth inhibition resulting from elevated ppGpp was relieved by rpoS mutations. The extent of the growth inhibition by ppGpp, as well as the magnitude of the relief by rpoS mutations, differed between MG1655 and MC4100. These results together suggest that spoT mutations represent one of several polymorphisms influencing the strain variation of RpoS levels. Stress resistance was higher in strains with the spoT mutation, which is consistent with the conclusion that microevolution affecting either or both ppGpp and RpoS can reset the balance between self-protection and nutritional capability, the SPANC balance, in individual strains of E. coli.

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