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Microb Cell Fact. 2011 Aug 30;10 Suppl 1:S9. doi: 10.1186/1475-2859-10-S1-S9. Epub 2011 Aug 30.

From transcriptional landscapes to the identification of biomarkers for robustness.

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Laboratory of Food Microbiology, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.


The ability of microorganisms to adapt to changing environments and gain cell robustness, challenges the prediction of their history-dependent behaviour. Using our model organism Bacillus cereus, a notorious Gram-positive food spoilage and pathogenic spore-forming bacterium, a strategy will be described that allows for identification of biomarkers for robustness. First an overview will be presented of its two-component systems that generally include a transmembrane sensor histidine kinase and its cognate response regulator, allowing rapid and robust responses to fluctuations in the environment. The role of the multisensor hybrid kinase RsbK and the PP2C-type phosphatase RsbY system in activation of the general stress sigma factor σB is highlighted. An extensive comparative analysis of transcriptional landscapes derived from B. cereus exposed to mild stress conditions such as heat, acid, salt and oxidative stress, revealed that, amongst others σB regulated genes were induced in most conditions tested. The information derived from the transcriptome data was subsequently implemented in a framework for identifying and selecting cellular biomarkers at their mRNA, protein and/or activity level, for mild stressinduced microbial robustness towards lethal stresses. Exposure of unstressed and mild stress-adapted cells to subsequent lethal stress conditions (heat, acid and oxidative stress) allowed for quantification of the robustness advantage provided by mild stress pretreatment using the plate-count method. The induction levels of the selected candidate-biomarkers, σB protein, catalase activity and transcripts of certain proteases upon mild stress treatment, were significantly correlated to mild stress-induced enhanced robustness towards lethal thermal, oxidative and acid stresses, and were therefore suitable to predict these adaptive traits. Cellular biomarkers that are quantitatively correlated to adaptive behavior will facilitate our ability to predict the impact of adaptive behavior on cell robustness and will allow to control and/or exploit these adaptive traits. Extrapolation to other species and genera is discussed such as avenues towards mechanism-based design of microbial fitness and robustness.

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