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Methods Enzymol. 2007;422:421-37.

Isolation and characterization of chemotaxis mutants of the Lyme disease Spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi using allelic exchange mutagenesis, flow cytometry, and cell tracking.

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Department of Microbiology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA.


Constructing mutants by targeted gene inactivation is more difficult in the Lyme disease organism, Borrelia burgdorferi, than in many other species of bacteria. The B. burgdorferi genome is fragmented, with a large linear genome and 21 linear and circular plasmids. Some of these small linear and circular plasmids are often lost during laboratory propagation, and the loss of specific plasmids can have a significant impact on virulence. In addition to the unusual structure of the B. burgdorferi genome, the presence of an active restriction-modification system impedes genetic transformation. Furthermore, B. burgdorferi is relatively slow growing, with a 7- to 12-h generation time, requiring weeks to obtain single colonies. The beginning part of this chapter details the procedure in targeting specific B. burgdorferi genes by allelic exchange mutagenesis. Our laboratory is especially interested in constructing and analyzing B. burgdorferi chemotaxis and motility mutants. Characterization of these mutants with respect to chemotaxis and swimming behavior is more difficult than for many other bacterial species. We have developed swarm plate and modified capillary tube assays for assessing chemotaxis. In the modified capillary tube chemotaxis assay, flow cytometry is used to rapidly enumerate cells that accumulate in the capillary tubes containing attractants. To assess the swimming behavior and velocity of B. burgdorferi wild-type and mutant cells, we use a commercially available cell tracker referred to as "Volocity." The latter part of this chapter presents protocols for performing swarm plate and modified capillary tube assays, as well as cell motion analysis. It should be possible to adapt these procedures to study other spirochete species, as well as other species of bacteria, especially those that have long generation times.

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