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Front Microbiol. 2013 Jun 18;4:157. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00157. eCollection 2013.

Compartment-specific pH monitoring in Bacillus subtilis using fluorescent sensor proteins: a tool to analyze the antibacterial effect of weak organic acids.

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Department of Molecular Microbial Physiology, Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences, University of Amsterdam Amsterdam, Netherlands.


The internal pH (pHi) of a living cell is one of its most important physiological parameters. To monitor the pH inside Bacillus subtilis during various stages of its life cycle, we constructed an improved version (IpHluorin) of the ratiometric, pH-sensitive fluorescent protein pHluorin by extending it at the 5' end with the first 24 bp of comGA. The new version, which showed an approximate 40% increase in fluorescence intensity, was expressed from developmental phase-specific, native promoters of B. subtilis that are specifically active during vegetative growth on glucose (PptsG) or during sporulation (PspoIIA, PspoIIID, and PsspE). Our results show strong, compartment-specific expression of IpHluorin that allowed accurate pHi measurements of live cultures during exponential growth, early and late sporulation, spore germination, and during subsequent spore outgrowth. Dormant spores were characterized by an pHi of 6.0 ± 0.3. Upon full germination the pHi rose dependent on the medium to 7.0-7.4. The presence of sorbic acid in the germination medium inhibited a rise in the intracellular pH of germinating spores and inhibited germination. Such effects were absent when acetic was added at identical concentrations.


GFP; bacterial spore formers; intracellular pH; pHluorin; spore germination; spores; uncouplers; weak organic acids

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