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Microbiology. 2012 Apr;158(Pt 4):1106-1116. doi: 10.1099/mic.0.053520-0. Epub 2012 Jan 12.

Cereulide produced by Bacillus cereus increases the fitness of the producer organism in low-potassium environments.

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Department of Food and Environmental Science, PO Box 56, 00014 University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.
Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Institutskaya 3, Pushchino, Moscow Region, 142290 Russia.


Cereulide, produced by certain Bacillus cereus strains, is a lipophilic cyclic peptide of 1152 Da that binds K(+) ions with high specificity and affinity. It is toxic to humans, but its role for the producer organism is not known. We report here that cereulide operates for B. cereus to scavenge potassium when the environment is growth limiting for this ion. Cereulide-producing B. cereus showed higher maximal growth rates (µ(max)) than cereulide non-producing B. cereus in K(+)-deficient medium (K(+) concentration ~1 mM). The cereulide-producing strains grew faster in K(+)-deficient than in K(+)-rich medium with or without added cereulide. Cereulide non-producing B. cereus neither increased µ(max) in K(+)-deficient medium compared with K(+)-rich medium, nor benefited from added cereulide. Cereulide-producing strains outcompeted GFP-labelled Bacillus thuringiensis in potassium-deficient (K(+) concentration ~1 mM) but not in potassium-rich (K(+) concentration ~30 mM) medium. Exposure to 2 µM cereulide in potassium-free medium lacking an energy source caused, within seconds, a major efflux of cellular K(+) from B. cereus not producing cereulide as well as from Bacillus subtilis. Cereulide depleted the cereulide non-producing B. cereus and B. subtilis cells of a major part of their K(+) stores, but did not affect cereulide-producing B. cereus strains. Externally added 6-10 µM cereulide triggered the generation of biofilms and pellicles by B. cereus. The results indicate that both endogenous and externally accessible cereulide supports the fitness of cereulide-producing B. cereus in environments where the potassium concentration is low.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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