Carbon Metabolism and Desiccation Tolerance in the Nitrogen-Fixing Rhizobia Bradyrhizobium japonicum and Sinorhizobium meliloti
Trainer, Maria Anne
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Most members of the Rhizobiaceae possess single copies of the poly-3-hydroxybutyrate biosynthesis genes, phbA, phbB and phbC. Analysis of the genome sequence of Bradyrhizobium japonicum reveals the presence of ﬁve homologues of the PHB synthase gene phbC as well as two homologues of the biosynthesis operon, phbAB. The presence of multiple, seemingly redundant homologues may suggest a functional importance. Each B. japonicum phbC gene was cloned and used to complement the pleiotropic phenotype of a Sinorhizobium meliloti phbC mutant; this mutant is unable to synthesize PHB, grow on certain PHB cycle intermediates and forms non-mucoid colonies on yeast mannitol medium. Two of the ﬁve putative B. japonicum phbC genes were found to complement the S. meliloti phbC mutant phenotype on D-3-hydroxybutyrate although none of them could fully complement the phenotype on acetoacetate. Both complementing genes were also able to restore PHB accumulation and formation of mucoid colonies on yeast mannitol agar to phbC mutants. In-frame deletions were constructed in three of the ﬁve phbC open reading frames in B. japonicum, as well as in both phbAB operons, by allelic replacement. One of the phbC mutants was unable to synthesize PHB under free-living conditions; one of the two phbAB operons was shown to be necessary and sufficient for PHB production under free-living conditions. These mutants also demonstrated an exopolysaccharide phenotype that was comparable to S meliloti PHB synthesis mutants. These strains were non-mucoid when grown under PHB-inducing conditions and, in contrast to wild-type B. japonicum, formed a compact pellet upon centrifugation. Interestingly, none of the mutants exhibited carbon-utilization phenotypes similar to those exhibited by S. meliloti PHB mutants. Wild-type B. japonicum accumulates PHB during symbiosis, and plants inoculated with the phbC mutants demonstrate a reproducible reduction in shoot dry mass. Analysis of bacteroid PHB accumulation in the mutant strains suggests that the phbAB operons of B. japonicum are differently regulated relative to growth under free-living conditions; mutants of the second phbAB operon demonstrated a signiﬁcant reduction in PHB accumulation during symbiosis. These data suggest that the first phbAB operon is required for PHB synthesis only under free-living conditions, but is able to partially substitute for the second operon during symbiosis. Deletion of both phbAB operons completely abolished PHB synthesis in bacteroids. Analysis of the upstream regions of these genes suggest the existence of putative RpoN binding sites, perhaps indicating a potential mode of regulation and highlighting the metabolic complexity that is characteristic of the Rhizobiaceae. PHB metabolism in S. meliloti has been studied in considerable detail with two notable exceptions. No reports of the construction of either a β-ketothiolase (phbA) or a PHB depolymerase (phaZ ) mutant have ever been documented. The phaZ gene, encoding the first enzyme of the catabolic half of the PHB cycle in S. meliloti, was identiﬁed and a phaZ mutant strain was generated by insertion mutagenesis. The phaZ mutant demonstrates a Fix+ symbiotic phenotype and, unlike other PHB cycle mutants, does not demonstrate reduced rhizosphere competitiveness. Bacteroids of this strain were shown to accumulate PHB, demonstrating for the first time that S. meliloti is able to synthesize and accumulate PHB during symbiosis. Interestingly, there is no signiﬁcant difference in shoot dry mass of plants inoculated with the phaZ mutant, suggesting that PHB accumulation does not occur at the expense of nitrogen ﬁxation. The phaZ mutant strain was also used to demonstrate roles for PhaZ in the control of PHB accumulation and exopolysaccharide production. When grown on high-carbon media, this mutant demonstrates a mucoid phenotype characteristic of exopolysaccharide production. Subsequent analyses of a phoA::exoF fusion conﬁrmed elevated transcription levels in the phaZ mutant background. In contrast, mutants of the PHB biosynthesis gene, phbC, have a characteristically dry phenotype and demonstrate reduced exoF transcriptional activity. The phaZ mutant also demonstrates a significant increase in PHB accumulation relative to the wild-type strain. Previous work on phasin mutants in S. meliloti demonstrated that they lack the ability to synthesize PHB. Transduction of the phaZ lesion into the phasin mutant background was used to construct a phaZ-phasin mutant strain. Analysis of the PHB biosynthesis capacity of this strain showed that the lack of PHB synthesis exhibited by S. meliloti phasin mutants is due to loss of PHB biosynthesis activity and not due to an inherent instability in the PHB granules themselves. A recent study suggested that some bacteria may possess an alternate pathway for acetate assimilation that would bypass the need for the glyoxylate cycle in organisms that do not possess the enzyme, isocitrate lyase. In these organisms, acetate is assimilated through the ethylmalonyl-CoA pathway, which has significant overlap with the anabolic half of the PHB cycle, including reliance on the PHB intermediate 3-hydroxybutyryl-CoA. The observation that phbB and phbC mutants of S. meliloti are unable to grow well on acetoacetate -- coupled with previously unexplained data that show a class of mutants (designated bhbA-D) are able to grow on acetate, but not on hydroxybutyrate or acetoacetate -- made it tempting to speculate that an ethylmalonyl-CoA-like pathway might be present in S. meliloti, and that this pathway might overlap with the PHB cycle at the point of 3-hydroxybutyryl-CoA. An in-frame mutation of phbA was constructed by cross-over PCR and allelic replacement. This mutant exhibited a complete abolition of growth on acetoacetate, suggesting that PhbA represents the only exit point for carbon from the PHB cycle and that an alternative ethylmalonyl-CoA-like pathway is not present in this organism. During symbiosis, rhizobial cells are dependent on the provision of carbon from the host plant in order to fuel cellular metabolism. This carbon is transported into the bacteroids via the dicarboxylate transport protein, DctA. Most rhizobia possess single copies of the transporter gene dctA and its corresponding two-component regulatory system dctBD. The completed genome sequence of B. japonicum suggests that it possesses seven copies of dctA. Complementation of Sinorhizobium meliloti dct mutants using the cosmid bank of B. japonicum USDA110 led to the identification a dctA locus and a dctBD operon. Interestingly, the B. japonicum dctABD system carried on the complementing cosmid was not able to complement the symbiotic deficiency of S. meliloti strains carrying individual mutations in either dctA, dctB, or dctD suggesting that the B. japonicum dctBD is unable to recognize either DctB/DctD or the DctB/DctD-independent regulatory elements in S. meliloti. All seven B. japonicum dctA ORFs were cloned and an analysis of their capacity to complement the free-living phenotype of a S. meliloti dctA mutant demonstrated that they all possess some capacity for dicarboxylate transport. Mutants of all seven B. japonicum dctA ORFs were constructed and an analysis of their free-living phenotypes suggested that significant functional redundancy exists in B. japonicum DctA function. Given the large number of potential dctA genes in the genome, coupled with an apparent lack of dctBD regulators, it is tempting to speculate that different DctA isoforms may be used during free-living and symbiotic growth and may be subject to different regulatory mechanisms than those of better-studied systems. A comprehensive analysis of desiccation tolerance and ion sensitivity in S. meliloti was conducted. The results of these analyses suggest that genetic elements on both pSymA and pSymB may play a significant role in enhancing cell survival under conditions of osmotic stress. The S. meliloti expR+ strains SmUW3 and SmUW6 were both shown to exhibit considerably higher desiccation tolerance than Rm1021, suggesting a role for enhanced exopolysaccharide production in facilitating survival under adverse conditions. Furthermore, scanning electron microscopy of inoculated seeds suggests that S. meliloti cells initiate biofilm formation upon application to the surface of seeds. This finding has implications for the analysis of OSS and the development of desiccation assays and may explain some of the variability that is characteristic of desiccation studies.