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Mol Microbiol. 2002 Feb;43(3):703-15.

An ABC-type, high-affinity urea permease identified in cyanobacteria.

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Instituto de Bioquímica Vegetal y Fotosíntesis, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Universidad de Sevilla, Avda Américo Vespucio s/n, E-41092 Sevilla, Spain.


Urea is an important nitrogen source for many microorganisms, but urea active transporters have not been characterized at a molecular level in any bacterium. Cells of Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 and Anabaena sp. PCC 7120 exhibited the capacity to take up [14C]-urea from low-concentration (<1 microM) urea solutions. The Ks of Anabaena cells for urea was about 0.11 microM, and the observed uptake activity involved the transport and metabolism of urea. In contrast to urease, which was constitutively ex-pressed, expression of the high-affinity urea uptake activity was subjected to nitrogen control. In an Anabaena ureG (urease-) mutant, a concentrative, active transport of urea could be demonstrated. We found that a mutant of open reading frame (ORF) sll0374 from the Synechocystis genomic sequence lacked urea transport activity. This ORF encoded a conserved component of an ABC-type transporter, but it is not clustered together with any other possible transporter-encoding gene. An Anabaena homologue of sll0374, urtE, was isolated and found to be part of a cluster of genes, urtABCDE, putatively encoding all the elements of an ABC-type permease. Although the longest transcript that we could detect only covered urtABC, the impairment of urea transport by inactivation of urtA, urtB or urtE suggested that the whole gene cluster is expressed producing the urea permease. Expression was induced under nitrogen-limiting conditions, and a complex promoter regulated by the cyanobacterial global nitrogen control transcription factor NtcA was found upstream from urtA. Our work adds urea to the known substrates of the versatile class of ABC-type transporters and suggests the involvement of a transporter of this superfamily in urea scavenging by some bacteria in natural environments.

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