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Mol Microbiol. 1995 Apr;16(2):215-27.

The genetic basis of colony opacity in Streptococcus pneumoniae: evidence for the effect of box elements on the frequency of phenotypic variation.

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University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104, USA.


Streptococcus pneumoniae undergoes spontaneous phase variation in colony morphology. Differences in colony opacity have previously been shown to correlate with differences in the ability of organisms to colonize the mucosal surface of the nasopharynx in an animal model. The genetic basis of opacity variation was identified in transformation experiments. A DNA library, from a strain that varies at high frequency, was screened to identify a single clone capable of transforming a transparent recipient strain which varies at low frequency to an opaque phenotype. Analysis of this opacity locus revealed two genes, glpD and glpF, with similarity to genes required for glycerol metabolism in other bacteria. Following the pneumococcal glpF, repetitive intergenic elements, boxes A and C, were identified. These stem-loop-forming elements were not present in the same locus of the recipient strain. Although not required for phase variation in colony opacity, the box element was necessary for expression of phase variation at high frequency. Introduction of the box elements during transformation affected colony morphology, possibly by altering expression of a putative regulatory gene downstream from the box element. Mutagenesis within this region confirmed the contribution of the putative regulatory gene to the expression of colony opacity. Growth characteristics of strains generated in this study provide additional evidence for an association of differences in cell wall autolysis and variation in colony opacity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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