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J Bacteriol. 2011 Apr;193(7):1552-62. doi: 10.1128/JB.01319-10. Epub 2011 Feb 4.

Protection of Bacillus subtilis against cold stress via compatible-solute acquisition.

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Philipps-University Marburg, Department of Biology, Microbiology, Karl-von-Frisch-Str. 8, D-35032 Marburg, Germany.


Accumulation of compatible solutes is a strategy widely employed by bacteria to achieve cellular protection against high osmolarity. These compounds are also used in some microorganisms as thermostress protectants. We found that Bacillus subtilis uses the compatible solute glycine betaine as an effective cold stress protectant. Glycine betaine strongly stimulated growth at 15°C and permitted cell proliferation at the growth-inhibiting temperature of 13°C. Initial uptake of glycine betaine at 15°C was low but led eventually to the buildup of an intracellular pool whose size was double that found in cells grown at 35°C. Each of the three glycine betaine transporters (OpuA, OpuC, and OpuD) contributed to glycine betaine accumulation in the cold. Protection against cold stress was also accomplished when glycine betaine was synthesized from its precursor choline. Growth of a mutant defective in the osmoadaptive biosynthesis for the compatible solute proline was not impaired at low temperature (15°C). In addition to glycine betaine, the compatible solutes and osmoprotectants l-carnitine, crotonobetaine, butyrobetaine, homobetaine, dimethylsulfonioactetate, and proline betaine all served as cold stress protectants as well and were accumulated via known Opu transport systems. In contrast, the compatible solutes and osmoprotectants choline-O-sulfate, ectoine, proline, and glutamate were not cold protective. Our data highlight an underappreciated facet of the acclimatization of B. subtilis to cold environments and allow a comparison of the characteristics of compatible solutes with respect to their osmotic, heat, and cold stress-protective properties for B. subtilis cells.

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