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Identification of a new regulatory pathway for the K-State in bacillus subtilis

Abstract : Bacillus subtilis, a Gram-positive soil bacterium, can enter into several developmental pathways such as sporulation, biofilm formation and competence development for DNA transformation when it becomes limited for essential nutrients. During competence, cells do not divide, are tolerant to antibiotics and competent cells express more than a 100 genes. The competent state has been named the K-state after its master regulator ComK. In B. subtilis, the entry into the K-state is stochastically determined by the activation of the transcription factor ComK and occurs, in the domesticated strains of B. subtilis, in approximately 15% of the population. The emergence from genetically identical cells of two distinct subpopulations (competent cells and non-competent cells) is known to be a classic survival strategy for bacteria, known as bet-hedging. Regulation of entry into the K-state has been intensively studied and is well understood; however, the reasons why undomesticated isolates of B. subtilis are poorly transformable compared to the domesticated strains remained unexplained. We show here that fewer cells enter the K-state, suggesting that some regulatory pathway limiting its expression has been lost in the domesticated backgrounds. We demonstrate that this is largely due to an inactivating point mutation in the degQ promoter region resulting in a decrease of the amount of DegQ. DegQ is known to stimulate phosphate transfer from the DegS autokinase to its cognate response regulator DegU. A low level of DegQ thus decreases the concentration of the phosphorylated form of DegU, leading to the de-repression of the srfA operon, which increases the amount of ComS leading to the stabilization of ComK. Thus, in domesticated strains of B. subtilis, more cells reach the concentration threshold of ComK needed to activate the positive auto-regulatory loop of ComK acting on its own promoter. We also show that the activation of srfA transcription in undomesticated strains is transient, as it is turned off when cells enter the stationary phase. Taken together, these data indicate that the K-state and transformability are less frequent and more transient in the undomesticated strains of B. subtilis. Consideration of the regulatory mechanisms and the fitness advantages and costs of the K-state must from now on take these features into consideration. These results underscore that our understanding of real-life biology requires the use of wild isolates.
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Mathieu Miras. Identification of a new regulatory pathway for the K-State in bacillus subtilis. Human genetics. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017TOU30082⟩. ⟨tel-01869028⟩

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