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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1998 May 1;64(5):1708-14.

Starvation-Induced Changes in Motility, Chemotaxis, and Flagellation of Rhizobium meliloti

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  • 1Department of Plant Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210.


The changes in motility, chemotactic responsiveness, and flagellation of Rhizobium meliloti RMB7201, L5-30, and JJ1c10 were analyzed after transfer of the bacteria to buffer with no available C, N, or phosphate. Cells of these three strains remained viable for weeks after transfer to starvation buffer (SB) but lost all motility within just 8 to 72 h after transfer to SB. The rates of motility loss differed by severalfold among the strains. Each strain showed a transient, two- to sixfold increase in chemotactic responsiveness toward glutamine within a few hours after transfer to SB, even though motility dropped substantially during the same period. Strains L5-30 and JJ1c10 also showed increased responsiveness to the nonmetabolizable chemoattractant cycloleucine. Cycloleucine partially restored the motility of starving cells when added after transfer and prevented the loss of motility when included in the SB used for initial suspension of the cells. Thus, interactions between chemoattractants and their receptors appear to affect the regulation of motility in response to starvation independently of nutrient or energy source availability. Electron microscopic observations revealed that R. meliloti cells lost flagella and flagellar integrity during starvation, but not as fast, nor to such a great extent, as the cells lost motility. Even after prolonged starvation, when none of the cells were actively motile, about one-third to one-half of the initially flagellated cells retained some flagella. Inactivation of flagellar motors therefore appears to be a rapid and important response of R. meliloti to starvation conditions. Flagellar-motor inactivation was at least partially reversible by addition of either cycloleucine or glucose. During starvation, some cells appeared to retain normal flagellation, normal motor activity, or both for relatively long periods while other cells rapidly lost flagella, motor activity, or both, indicating that starvation-induced regulation of motility may proceed differently in various cell subpopulations.

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