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Mol Microbiol. 1997 May;24(4):839-50.

Starvation-independent sporulation in Myxococcus xanthus involves the pathway for beta-lactamase induction and provides a mechanism for competitive cell survival.

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Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley 94720-3204, USA.


Myxococcus xanthus is a Gram-negative, soil-dwelling bacterium with a complex life cycle which includes fruiting body formation and sporulation in response to starvation. This developmental process is slow, requiring a minimum of 24-48 h, and requires cells to be at high cell density on a solid surface. It is known that, in the absence of starvation, vegetatively growing cell suspensions can form 'glycerol spores' when exposed to high levels of glycerol, usually 0.5 M. The cells differentiate from rods to resistant spheres rapidly (2-4 h) and synchronously. We have found that the chromosomally encoded beta-lactamase of M. xanthus can be induced by numerous beta-lactam antibiotics as well as by non-specific inducers including glycine and many D-amino acids. In addition, D-cycloserine, phosphomycin, and hen egg-white lysozyme also induce beta-lactamase in this bacterium. Unexpectedly, agents which induce beta-lactamase can induce 'glycerol spores'; all of the agents tested which induce glycerol spores (glycerol, DMSO, ethylene glycol) also induce beta-lactamase. During the induction of sporulation, beta-lactamase activity increases, reaching a peak during the morphological transition from rod-shaped cells to spherical spores. These spores are viable and resistant to many treatments which disrupt vegetatively growing rods but are not as resistant as fruiting body spores. The concomitant induction of beta-lactamase and starvation-independent sporulation suggests that these processes share a common signal-transduction pathway. These results also suggest that starvation-independent sporulation may be an adaptation of cells in order to resist agents that damage peptidoglycan structure and therefore threaten cell survival.

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