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ISME J. 2013 Dec;7(12):2274-86. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.107. Epub 2013 Jul 4.

You are what you talk: quorum sensing induces individual morphologies and cell division modes in Dinoroseobacter shibae.

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Helmholtz-Centre for Infection Research (HZI), Braunschweig, Germany.


Dinoroseobacter shibae, a member of the Roseobacter clade abundant in marine environments, is characterized by a pronounced pleomorphism. Cell shapes range from variable-sized ovoid rods to long filaments with a high copy number of chromosomes. Time-lapse microscopy shows cells dividing either by binary fission or by budding from the cell poles. Here we demonstrate that this morphological heterogeneity is induced by quorum sensing (QS). D. shibae utilizes three acylated homoserine lactone (AHL) synthases (luxI1-3) to produce AHLs with unsaturated C18 side chains. A ΔluxI1-knockout strain completely lacking AHL biosynthesis was uniform in morphology and divided by binary fission only. Transcriptome analysis revealed that expression of genes responsible for control of cell division was reduced in this strain, providing the link between QS and the observed phenotype. In addition, flagellar biosynthesis and type IV secretion system (T4SS) were downregulated. The wild-type phenotype and gene expression could be restored through addition of synthetic C18-AHLs. Their effectiveness was dependent on the number of double bonds in the acyl side chain and the regulated trait. The wild-type expression level of T4SS genes was fully restored even by an AHL with a saturated C18 side chain that has not been detected in D. shibae. QS induces phenotypic individualization of D. shibae cells rather than coordinating the population. This strategy might be beneficial in unpredictably changing environments, for example, during algal blooms when resource competition and grazing exert fluctuating selective pressures. A specific response towards non-native AHLs might provide D. shibae with the capacity for complex interspecies communication.

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