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J Bacteriol. 1999 Jul;181(13):3981-93.

Escherichia coli mutants lacking all possible combinations of eight penicillin binding proteins: viability, characteristics, and implications for peptidoglycan synthesis.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Medicine, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota 58202-9037, USA.


The penicillin binding proteins (PBPs) synthesize and remodel peptidoglycan, the structural component of the bacterial cell wall. Much is known about the biochemistry of these proteins, but little is known about their biological roles. To better understand the contributions these proteins make to the physiology of Escherichia coli, we constructed 192 mutants from which eight PBP genes were deleted in every possible combination. The genes encoding PBPs 1a, 1b, 4, 5, 6, and 7, AmpC, and AmpH were cloned, and from each gene an internal coding sequence was removed and replaced with a kanamycin resistance cassette flanked by two res sites from plasmid RP4. Deletion of individual genes was accomplished by transferring each interrupted gene onto the chromosome of E. coli via lambda phage transduction and selecting for kanamycin-resistant recombinants. Afterwards, the kanamycin resistance cassette was removed from each mutant strain by supplying ParA resolvase in trans, yielding a strain in which a long segment of the original PBP gene was deleted and replaced by an 8-bp res site. These kanamycin-sensitive mutants were used as recipients in further rounds of replacement mutagenesis, resulting in a set of strains lacking from one to seven PBPs. In addition, the dacD gene was deleted from two septuple mutants, creating strains lacking eight genes. The only deletion combinations not produced were those lacking both PBPs 1a and 1b because such a combination is lethal. Surprisingly, all other deletion mutants were viable even though, at the extreme, 8 of the 12 known PBPs had been eliminated. Furthermore, when both PBPs 2 and 3 were inactivated by the beta-lactams mecillinam and aztreonam, respectively, several mutants did not lyse but continued to grow as enlarged spheres, so that one mutant synthesized osmotically resistant peptidoglycan when only 2 of 12 PBPs (PBPs 1b and 1c) remained active. These results have important implications for current models of peptidoglycan biosynthesis, for understanding the evolution of the bacterial sacculus, and for interpreting results derived by mutating unknown open reading frames in genome projects. In addition, members of the set of PBP mutants will provide excellent starting points for answering fundamental questions about other aspects of cell wall metabolism.

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