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Functional dynamics of the bacterial flagellar motor driven by fluorescent protein tagged stators and by evolutionary modified foreign stators

Abstract : The bacterial flagellar motor (BFM) is the macromolecular complex which allows bacteria to swim in liquid media. Located at the base of the flagellum, anchored in the cell membrane, this remarkably small (~45nm) yet powerful rotary motor rotates each flagellum of the cell switching between counterclockwise (CCW) and clockwise (CW) direction. The motor rotation is generated at the interface between the two key components of the motor: the stator protein complexes (each composed of 4 MotA and 2 MotB proteins) and the C- ring protein complex at the base of the rotor. The stator complexes are structurally and functionally discernible modules of the motor, and their dynamical association and dissociation around the rotor controls the generation of torque.The first project of this study aims to investigate how the FP tag on the stator protein modifies the torque generation and switching of the motor. This is particularly important because the fluorescent protein tag lies at the interface between stator and rotor, where torque and switching are produced. Three different FPs (eGFP, YPet, Dendra2) were fused to MotB. Interestingly, despite the high similarity of their structures, our analysis revealed that the three fusion stators generate different torque. Furthermore, in the presence of fusion stators, the motor showed significantly impaired switching abilities. When switching direction of the rotation, the absolute value of the speed of WT motors does not change, whereas this symmetry of speed upon switching is not observed in the fusion stator motors, and switching can be accompanied with a significant (~30%) decrease in absolute speed. Both the impaired torque generation and the switching ability were improved by introducing a rigid linker between the stator and the FP tag. Taken together, this study provides a further insight into the dynamics of the stator and rotor interaction at its interface.When the cells carrying the fluorescently labeled stators were observed in a custom made TIRF-fluorescence microscope with single molecule capability, the fluorescence signals were detected as concentrated clusters in the membrane as expected for these membrane proteins around the motors, together with a population of stators diffusing in the membrane. Fluorescent clusters were visible at the center of rotating cells tethered to the glass slide by a single flagellum, confirming that the fluorescent tags can be visualized in functioning motors.In a second project developed in Bertus Beaumont lab at TU Delft, taking BFM as an experimental evolutionary model system, its modularity and evolvability have been explored to learn the molecular details of the evolution of molecular machines. The stators of E.coli have been exchanged by a set of 21 homologue foreign stators. The experiments revealed that the stator proteins can be exchanged between distant bacteria species, and some of the non-compatible stators can be positively modified by evolution to become functional. Those evolved strains accumulated beneficial mutations in their foreign motA and motB genes, especially on their functional domains. Identical mutations in different stators were common, indicating that evolution is repeatable. The functional investigation at the single motor level revealed that those beneficial mutations improved the torque generation and/or the switching ability of the motor. The detailed genotype and phenotype investigations of the evolutionary modified BFM may bring an insight into how molecular machines such as BFM have evolved as well as the functional effects of the beneficial mutations that facilitate functional integration.
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Minyoung Heo. Functional dynamics of the bacterial flagellar motor driven by fluorescent protein tagged stators and by evolutionary modified foreign stators. Molecular biology. Université Montpellier, 2016. English. ⟨NNT : 2016MONTT080⟩. ⟨tel-01972611⟩

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