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J Bacteriol. 2016 Sep 9;198(19):2596-607. doi: 10.1128/JB.00037-16. Print 2016 Oct 1.

The Histidine Kinase BinK Is a Negative Regulator of Biofilm Formation and Squid Colonization.

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Department of Microbiology-Immunology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
Department of Microbiology-Immunology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, USA


Bacterial colonization of animal epithelial tissue is a dynamic process that relies on precise molecular communication. Colonization of Euprymna scolopes bobtail squid by Vibrio fischeri bacteria requires bacterial aggregation in host mucus as the symbiont transitions from a planktonic lifestyle in seawater to a biofilm-associated state in the host. We have identified a gene, binK (biofilm inhibitor kinase; VF_A0360), which encodes an orphan hybrid histidine kinase that negatively regulates the V. fischeri symbiotic biofilm (Syp) in vivo and in vitro We identified binK mutants as exhibiting a colonization advantage in a global genetic screen, a phenotype that we confirmed in controlled competition experiments. Bacterial biofilm aggregates in the host are larger in strains lacking BinK, whereas overexpression of BinK suppresses biofilm formation and squid colonization. Signaling through BinK is required for temperature modulation of biofilm formation at 28°C. Furthermore, we present evidence that BinK acts upstream of SypG, the σ(54)-dependent transcriptional regulator of the syp biofilm locus. The BinK effects are dependent on intact signaling in the RscS-Syp biofilm pathway. Therefore, we propose that BinK antagonizes the signal from RscS and serves as an integral component in V. fischeri biofilm regulation.


Bacterial lifestyle transitions underlie the colonization of animal hosts from environmental reservoirs. Formation of matrix-enclosed, surface-associated aggregates (biofilms) is common in beneficial and pathogenic associations, but investigating the genetic basis of biofilm development in live animal hosts remains a significant challenge. Using the bobtail squid light organ as a model, we analyzed putative colonization factors and identified a histidine kinase that negatively regulates biofilm formation at the host interface. This work reveals a novel in vivo biofilm regulator that influences the transition of bacteria from their planktonic state in seawater to tight aggregates of cells in the host. The study enriches our understanding of biofilm regulation and beneficial colonization by an animal's microbiome.

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