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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2019 Aug 1;85(16). pii: e00966-19. doi: 10.1128/AEM.00966-19. Print 2019 Aug 15.

Inverted Regulation of Multidrug Efflux Pumps, Acid Resistance, and Porins in Benzoate-Evolved Escherichia coli K-12.

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Department of Biology, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, USA.
Environmental Microbiology and Food Safety Laboratory, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.
Department of Biology, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, USA
Contributed equally


Benzoic acid, a partial uncoupler of the proton motive force (PMF), selects for sensitivity to chloramphenicol and tetracycline during the experimental evolution of Escherichia coli K-12. Transcriptomes of E. coli isolates evolved with benzoate showed the reversal of benzoate-dependent regulation, including the downregulation of multidrug efflux pump genes, the gene for the Gad acid resistance regulon, the nitrate reductase genes narHJ, and the gene for the acid-consuming hydrogenase Hyd-3. However, the benzoate-evolved strains had increased expression of OmpF and other large-hole porins that admit fermentable substrates and antibiotics. Candidate genes identified from benzoate-evolved strains were tested for their roles in benzoate tolerance and in chloramphenicol sensitivity. Benzoate or salicylate tolerance was increased by deletion of the Gad activator ariR or of the acid fitness island from slp to the end of the gadX gene encoding Gad regulators and the multidrug pump genes mdtEF Benzoate tolerance was also increased by deletion of multidrug component gene emrA, RpoS posttranscriptional regulator gene cspC, adenosine deaminase gene add, hydrogenase gene hyc (Hyd-3), and the RNA chaperone/DNA-binding regulator gene hfq Chloramphenicol resistance was decreased by mutations in genes for global regulators, such as RNA polymerase alpha subunit gene rpoA, the Mar activator gene rob, and hfq Deletion of lipopolysaccharide biosynthetic kinase gene rfaY decreased the rate of growth in chloramphenicol. Isolates from experimental evolution with benzoate had many mutations affecting aromatic biosynthesis and catabolism, such as aroF (encoding tyrosine biosynthesis) and apt (encoding adenine phosphoribosyltransferase). Overall, benzoate or salicylate exposure selects for the loss of multidrug efflux pumps and of hydrogenases that generate a futile cycle of PMF and upregulates porins that admit fermentable nutrients and antibiotics.IMPORTANCE Benzoic acid is a common food preservative, and salicylic acid (2-hydroxybenzoic acid) is the active form of aspirin. At high concentrations, benzoic acid conducts a proton across the membrane, depleting the proton motive force. In the absence of antibiotics, benzoate exposure selects against proton-driven multidrug efflux pumps and upregulates porins that admit fermentable substrates but that also allow the entry of antibiotics. Thus, evolution with benzoate and related molecules, such as salicylates, requires a trade-off for antibiotic sensitivity, a trade-off that could help define a stable gut microbiome. Benzoate and salicylate are naturally occurring plant signal molecules that may modulate the microbiomes of plants and animal digestive tracts so as to favor fermenters and exclude drug-resistant pathogens.


Escherichia coli; Gad; acid fitness island; benzoate; chloramphenicol; experimental evolution; hydrogenases; multidrug efflux; porins; salicylate

[Available on 2020-02-01]

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