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J Biol Chem. 2005 Apr 22;280(16):15921-7. Epub 2005 Feb 10.

Global transcriptional programs reveal a carbon source foraging strategy by Escherichia coli.

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Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


By exploring global gene expression of Escherichia coli growing on six different carbon sources, we discovered a striking genome transcription pattern: as carbon substrate quality declines, cells systematically increase the number of genes expressed. Gene induction occurs in a hierarchical manner and includes many factors for uptake and metabolism of better but currently unavailable carbon sources. Concomitantly, cells also increase their motility. Thus, as the growth potential of the environment decreases, cells appear to devote progressively more energy on the mere possibility of improving conditions. This adaptation is not what would be predicated by classic regulatory models alone. We also observe an inverse correlation between gene activation and rRNA synthesis suggesting that reapportioning RNA polymerase (RNAP) contributes to the expanded genome activation. Significant differences in RNAP distribution in vivo, monitored using an RNAP-green fluorescent protein fusion, from energy-rich and energy-poor carbon source cultures support this hypothesis. Together, these findings represent the integration of both substrate-specific and global regulatory systems, and may be a bacterial approximation to metazoan risk-prone foraging behavior.

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