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Mol Microbiol. 2002 Nov;46(3):879-87.

Mutants in flaI and flaJ of the archaeon Methanococcus voltae are deficient in flagellum assembly.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6.


The fla gene locus of Methanococcus voltae encodes the major structural components of the flagellum as well as other flagellar-related proteins. The flaHIJ genes have been found in all flagellated archaea, suggesting a central role in flagella biogenesis. FlaI shares similarity with the type II and type IV secretion NTPases (such as PilB, VirB11 and TadA), and FlaJ exhibits similarity to putative bacterial integral membrane proteins involved in type IV pilus biogenesis such as TadB. In this study, reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and Northern blotting data revealed that flaHIJ are co-transcribed with the upstream structural flagellin genes, thus demonstrating the expression of the entire fla gene cluster in vivo. Non-polar mutants in flaI and flaJ of M. voltae were isolated using insertional inactivation via a novel mutagenic vector. These mutants were non-motile and non-flagellated by microscopy, demonstrating the involvement of FlaI and FlaJ in flagella biogenesis. Interestingly, all the mutants maintained the ability to produce and localize flagellins to the cytoplasmic membrane. Amino-terminal sequencing of flagellins produced by the flaJ mutant strain revealed that the flagellins did not have their cognate leader peptides, thus indicating that preflagellin processing had occurred in vivo. This result was confirmed using an in vitro processing assay. The fla- phenotype and protein secretion characteristics of the flaI and flaJ mutants therefore implicate these respective genes in archaeal flagellin secretion and assembly. These findings further support a model describing the archaeal flagellum as a novel prokaryotic motility structure.

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