Characterization of the Chemotaxis System of the Endosymbiotic Bacterium Rhizobium leguminosarum

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Miller, Lance Delano
Zhulin, Igor
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Chemotaxis is the process by which motile bacteria navigate chemical gradients in order to position themselves in optimum environments for growth and metabolism. Sensory input from both the external environment and the internal cellular environment are sensed by chemotaxis transducers and transduced to a two-component system whose output interacts with the flagellum thereby regulating motility. Chemotaxis has been implicated in establishing the endosymbiotic relationship between the motile alpha-proteobacterium Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar viciae and its host Pisum sativa, the pea plant. An approach combing bioinformatical sequence analysis, molecular genetics, and behavioral analysis was used to characterize the chemotaxis system of R. leguminosarum and determine its contribution to this bacterium s lifestyle. A genome search revealed the presence of two chemotaxis gene clusters, che1 and che2. Homologs of each che cluster are major chemotaxis operons controlling flagellar motility in other bacterial species. For this reason we sought to determine the contribution of each che cluster to chemotaxis in R. leguminosarum. We found that while both che clusters contribute to the regulation of motility, che1 is the major che cluster controlling chemotaxis. Using competitive nodulation assays we determined that che1, but not che2, is essential for competitive nodulation. The major che cluster, che1, encodes a chemotaxis transducer, IcpA-Rl, with a globin coupled sensor domain. Chemotaxis transducers with a globin coupled sensor domain comprise a large class of proteins found in bacteria and archaea. These proteins have been shown to bind heme and sense oxygen and are therefore termed HemATs for heme-binding aerotaxis transducers. However, sequence analysis of IcpA-Rl reveals that it lacks the requisite amino acid residues for heme-binding and is therefore unlikely to sense oxygen. We present evidence that IcpA-Rl is likely an energy transducer and represents a novel function of the globin coupled sensor domain in sensing energy related parameters.
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