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Microbiology. 2011 Jun;157(Pt 6):1640-50. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.045161-0. Epub 2011 Mar 17.

Role of DLP12 lysis genes in Escherichia coli biofilm formation.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Phages have recently been implicated as important in biofilm development, although the mechanisms whereby phages impact biofilms remain unclear. One defective lambdoid phage carried by Escherichia coli K-12 is DLP12. Among the genes found in DLP12 are essD, ybcS and rzpD/rzoD, which are homologues of the Lambda phage genes encoding cell-lysis proteins (S, R and Rz/Rz(1)). The role that these DLP12 lysis genes play in biofilm formation was examined in deletion mutants of E. coli PHL628, a curli-overproducing, biofilm-forming K-12 derivative. Strains lacking essD, ybcS and rzpD/rzoD were unable to form wild-type biofilms. While all mutants were compromised in attachment to abiotic surfaces and aggregated less well than the wild-type, the effect of the essD knockout on biofilm formation was less dramatic than that of deleting ybcS or rzpD/rzoD. These results were consistent with electron micrographs of the mutants, which showed a decreased number of curli fibres on cell surfaces. Also consistent with this finding, we observed that expression from the promoter of csgB, which encodes the curli subunits, was downregulated in the mutants. As curli production is transcriptionally downregulated in response to cell wall stress, we challenged the mutants with SDS and found them to be more sensitive to the detergent than the wild-type. We also examined the release of (14)C-labelled peptidoglycan from the mutants and found that they did not lose labelled peptidoglycan to the same extent as the wild-type. Given that curli production is known to be suppressed by N-acetylglucosamine 6-phosphate (NAG-6P), a metabolite produced during peptidoglycan recycling, we deleted nagK, the N-acetylglucosamine kinase gene, from the lysis mutants and found that this restored curli production. This suggested that deletion of the lysis genes affected cell wall status, which was transduced to the curli operon by NAG-6P via an as yet unknown mechanism. These observations provide evidence that the S, R and Rz/Rz(1) gene homologues encoded by DLP12 are not merely genetic junk, but rather play an important, though undefined, role in cell wall maintenance.

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