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ISME J. 2013 Aug;7(8):1568-81. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.36. Epub 2013 Mar 14.

The unexpected discovery of a novel low-oxygen-activated locus for the anoxic persistence of Burkholderia cenocepacia.

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Organisms and Environment Division, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, UK.


Burkholderia cenocepacia is a Gram-negative aerobic bacterium that belongs to a group of opportunistic pathogens displaying diverse environmental and pathogenic lifestyles. B. cenocepacia is known for its ability to cause lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis and it possesses a large 8 Mb multireplicon genome encoding a wide array of pathogenicity and fitness genes. Transcriptomic profiling across nine growth conditions was performed to identify the global gene expression changes made when B. cenocepacia changes niches from an environmental lifestyle to infection. In comparison to exponential growth, the results demonstrated that B. cenocepacia changes expression of over one-quarter of its genome during conditions of growth arrest, stationary phase and surprisingly, under reduced oxygen concentrations (6% instead of 20.9% normal atmospheric conditions). Multiple virulence factors are upregulated during these growth arrest conditions. A unique discovery from the comparative expression analysis was the identification of a distinct, co-regulated 50-gene cluster that was significantly upregulated during growth under low oxygen conditions. This gene cluster was designated the low-oxygen-activated (lxa) locus and encodes six universal stress proteins and proteins predicted to be involved in metabolism, transport, electron transfer and regulation. Deletion of the lxa locus resulted in B. cenocepacia mutants with aerobic growth deficiencies in minimal medium and compromised viability after prolonged incubation in the absence of oxygen. In summary, transcriptomic profiling of B. cenocepacia revealed an unexpected ability of aerobic Burkholderia to persist in the absence of oxygen and identified the novel lxa locus as key determinant of this important ecophysiological trait.

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