M1T1 strain, its diversification by phage acquisition, and the in vivo selection of more fit members of its community present an intriguing example of the emergence of hypervirulent forms of a human pathogen.
The resurgence of severe invasive group A streptococcal infections in the 1980s is a typical example of the reemergence of an infectious disease. We found that this resurgence is a consequence of the diversification of particular strains of the bacteria. Among these strains is a highly virulent subclone of serotype M1T1 that has exhibited unusual epidemiologic features and virulence, unlike all other streptococcal strains. This clonal strain, commonly isolated from both noninvasive and invasive infection cases, is most frequently associated with severe invasive diseases. Because of its unusual prevalence, global spread, and increased virulence, we investigated the unique features that likely confer its unusual properties. In doing so, we found that the increased virulence of this clonal strain can be attributed to its diversification through phage mobilization and its ability to sense and adapt to different host environments; accordingly, the fittest members of this diverse bacterial community are selected to survive and invade host tissue.
M1T1 strain; Streptococcus pyogenes; epidemiology; strain diversification; invasive; pathogenomics; phage mobilization; horizontal gene transfer; perspective
High-throughput sequencing technology, also called next-generation sequencing (NGS), has the potential to revolutionize the whole process of genome sequencing, transcriptomics, and epigenetics. Sequencing data is captured in a public primary data archive, the Sequence Read Archive (SRA). As of January 2013, data from more than 14,000 projects have been submitted to SRA, which is double that of the previous year. Researchers can download raw sequence data from SRA website to perform further analyses and to compare with their own data. However, it is extremely difficult to search entries and download raw sequences of interests with SRA because the data structure is complicated, and experimental conditions along with raw sequences are partly described in natural language. Additionally, some sequences are of inconsistent quality because anyone can submit sequencing data to SRA with no quality check. Therefore, as a criterion of data quality, we focused on SRA entries that were cited in journal articles. We extracted SRA IDs and PubMed IDs (PMIDs) from SRA and full-text versions of journal articles and retrieved 2748 SRA ID-PMID pairs. We constructed a publication list referring to SRA entries. Since, one of the main themes of -omics analyses is clarification of disease mechanisms, we also characterized SRA entries by disease keywords, according to the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) extracted from articles assigned to each SRA entry. We obtained 989 SRA ID-MeSH disease term pairs, and constructed a disease list referring to SRA data. We previously developed feature profiles of diseases in a system called “Gendoo”. We generated hyperlinks between diseases extracted from SRA and the feature profiles of it. The developed project, publication and disease lists resulting from this study are available at our web service, called “DBCLS SRA” (http://sra.dbcls.jp/). This service will improve accessibility to high-quality data from SRA.
Culture-independent high-throughput sequencing-based methods are widely used to study bacterial communities. Although these approaches are superior to traditional culture-based methods, they introduce bias at the experimental and bioinformatics levels. We assessed the diversity of the human salivary microbiome by pyrosequencing of the 16S rDNA V1–3 amplicons using metagenomic DNA extracted by two different protocols: a simple proteinase K digestion without a subsequent DNA clean-up step, and a bead-beating mechanical lysis protocol followed by column DNA purification. A high degree of congruence was found between the two extraction methods, most notably in regard to the microbial community composition. The results showed that for a given bioinformatics pipeline, all the taxa with an average proportion >0.12% in samples processed using one extraction method were also detected in samples extracted using the other method. The same taxa tended to be abundant and frequent for both extraction methods. The relative abundance of sequence reads assigned to the phyla Actinobacteria, Spirochaetes, TM7, Synergistetes, and Tenericutes was significantly higher in the mechanically-treated samples than in the enzymatically-treated samples, whereas the phylum Firmicutes showed the opposite pattern. No significant differences in diversity indices were found between the extraction methods, although the mechanical lysis method revealed higher operational taxonomic unit richness. Differences between the extraction procedures outweighed the variations due to the bioinformatics analysis pipelines used.
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) is a human-specific bacterial pathogen responsible for serious morbidity and mortality worldwide. The hyaluronic acid (HA) capsule of GAS is a major virulence factor, contributing to bloodstream survival through resistance to neutrophil and antimicrobial peptide killing and to in vivo pathogenicity. Capsule biosynthesis has been exclusively attributed to the ubiquitous hasABC hyaluronan synthase operon, which is highly conserved across GAS serotypes. Previous reports indicate that hasA, encoding hyaluronan synthase, and hasB, encoding UDP-glucose 6-dehydrogenase, are essential for capsule production in GAS. Here, we report that precise allelic exchange mutagenesis of hasB in GAS strain 5448, a representative of the globally disseminated M1T1 serotype, did not abolish HA capsule synthesis. In silico whole-genome screening identified a putative HasB paralog, designated HasB2, with 45% amino acid identity to HasB at a distant location in the GAS chromosome. In vitro enzymatic assays demonstrated that recombinant HasB2 is a functional UDP-glucose 6-dehydrogenase enzyme. Mutagenesis of hasB2 alone slightly decreased capsule abundance; however, a ΔhasB ΔhasB2 double mutant became completely acapsular. We conclude that HasB is not essential for M1T1 GAS capsule biogenesis due to the presence of a newly identified HasB paralog, HasB2, which most likely resulted from gene duplication. The identification of redundant UDP-glucose 6-dehydrogenases underscores the importance of HA capsule expression for M1T1 GAS pathogenicity and survival in the human host.
All sequence data contain inherent information that can be measured by Shannon's uncertainty theory. Such measurement is valuable in evaluating large data sets, such as metagenomic libraries, to prioritize their analysis and annotation, thus saving computational resources. Here, Shannon's index of complete phage and bacterial genomes was examined. The information content of a genome was found to be highly dependent on the genome length, GC content, and sequence word size. In metagenomic sequences, the amount of information correlated with the number of matches found by comparison to sequence databases. A sequence with more information (higher uncertainty) has a higher probability of being significantly similar to other sequences in the database. Measuring uncertainty may be used for rapid screening for sequences with matches in available database, prioritizing computational resources, and indicating which sequences with no known similarities are likely to be important for more detailed analysis.
The influence of resident gut microbes on xenobiotic metabolism has been investigated at different levels throughout the past five decades. However, with the advance in sequencing and pyrotagging technologies, addressing the influence of microbes on xenobiotics had to evolve from assessing direct metabolic effects on toxins and botanicals by conventional culture-based techniques to elucidating the role of community composition on drugs metabolic profiles through DNA sequence-based phylogeny and metagenomics. Following the completion of the Human Genome Project, the rapid, substantial growth of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) opens new horizons for studying how microbiome compositional and functional variations affect drug action, fate, and toxicity (pharmacomicrobiomics), notably in the human gut. The HMP continues to characterize the microbial communities associated with the human gut, determine whether there is a common gut microbiome profile shared among healthy humans, and investigate the effect of its alterations on health. Here, we offer a glimpse into the known effects of the gut microbiota on xenobiotic metabolism, with emphasis on cases where microbiome variations lead to different therapeutic outcomes. We discuss a few examples representing how the microbiome interacts with human metabolic enzymes in the liver and intestine. In addition, we attempt to envisage a roadmap for the future implications of the HMP on therapeutics and personalized medicine.
Human microbiome project; Xenobitoics; Liver enzymes; Metagenome; Microbiota; Metabolomics; Metabonomics; Pharmacokinetics; Pharmacodynamics; Pharmacomicrobiomics
The remarkable advance in sequencing technology and the rising interest in medical and environmental microbiology, biotechnology, and synthetic biology resulted in a deluge of published microbial genomes. Yet, genome annotation, comparison, and modeling remain a major bottleneck to the translation of sequence information into biological knowledge, hence computational analysis tools are continuously being developed for rapid genome annotation and interpretation. Among the earliest, most comprehensive resources for prokaryotic genome analysis, the SEED project, initiated in 2003 as an integration of genomic data and analysis tools, now contains >5,000 complete genomes, a constantly updated set of curated annotations embodied in a large and growing collection of encoded subsystems, a derived set of protein families, and hundreds of genome-scale metabolic models. Until recently, however, maintaining current copies of the SEED code and data at remote locations has been a pressing issue. To allow high-performance remote access to the SEED database, we developed the SEED Servers (http://www.theseed.org/servers): four network-based servers intended to expose the data in the underlying relational database, support basic annotation services, offer programmatic access to the capabilities of the RAST annotation server, and provide access to a growing collection of metabolic models that support flux balance analysis. The SEED servers offer open access to regularly updated data, the ability to annotate prokaryotic genomes, the ability to create metabolic reconstructions and detailed models of metabolism, and access to hundreds of existing metabolic models. This work offers and supports a framework upon which other groups can build independent research efforts. Large integrations of genomic data represent one of the major intellectual resources driving research in biology, and programmatic access to the SEED data will provide significant utility to a broad collection of potential users.
Prophages are phages in lysogeny that are integrated into, and replicated as part of, the host bacterial genome. These mobile elements can have tremendous impact on their bacterial hosts’ genomes and phenotypes, which may lead to strain emergence and diversification, increased virulence or antibiotic resistance. However, finding prophages in microbial genomes remains a problem with no definitive solution. The majority of existing tools rely on detecting genomic regions enriched in protein-coding genes with known phage homologs, which hinders the de novo discovery of phage regions. In this study, a weighted phage detection algorithm, PhiSpy was developed based on seven distinctive characteristics of prophages, i.e. protein length, transcription strand directionality, customized AT and GC skew, the abundance of unique phage words, phage insertion points and the similarity of phage proteins. The first five characteristics are capable of identifying prophages without any sequence similarity with known phage genes. PhiSpy locates prophages by ranking genomic regions enriched in distinctive phage traits, which leads to the successful prediction of 94% of prophages in 50 complete bacterial genomes with a 6% false-negative rate and a 0.66% false-positive rate.
The Phenotype MicroArray (OmniLog® PM) system is able to simultaneously capture a large number of phenotypes by recording an organism's respiration over time on distinct substrates. This technique targets the object of natural selection itself, the phenotype, whereas previously addressed ‘-omics’ techniques merely study components that finally contribute to it. The recording of respiration over time, however, adds a longitudinal dimension to the data. To optimally exploit this information, it must be extracted from the shapes of the recorded curves and displayed in analogy to conventional growth curves.
The free software environment R was explored for both visualizing and fitting of PM respiration curves. Approaches using either a model fit (and commonly applied growth models) or a smoothing spline were evaluated. Their reliability in inferring curve parameters and confidence intervals was compared to the native OmniLog® PM analysis software. We consider the post-processing of the estimated parameters, the optimal classification of curve shapes and the detection of significant differences between them, as well as practically relevant questions such as detecting the impact of cultivation times and the minimum required number of experimental repeats.
We provide a comprehensive framework for data visualization and parameter estimation according to user choices. A flexible graphical representation strategy for displaying the results is proposed, including 95% confidence intervals for the estimated parameters. The spline approach is less prone to irregular curve shapes than fitting any of the considered models or using the native PM software for calculating both point estimates and confidence intervals. These can serve as a starting point for the automated post-processing of PM data, providing much more information than the strict dichotomization into positive and negative reactions. Our results form the basis for a freely available R package for the analysis of PM data.
PMID: 22523528 CAMSID: cams2043
Group A Streptococcus (GAS) causes rare but life-threatening syndromes of necrotizing fasciitis and toxic shock-like syndrome in humans. The GAS serotype M1T1 clone has globally disseminated, and mutations in the control of virulence regulatory sensor kinase (covRS) operon correlate with severe invasive disease. Here, a cohort of non-M1 GAS was screened to determine whether mutation in covRS triggers systemic dissemination in divergent M serotypes. A GAS disease model defining parameters governing invasive propensity of differing M types is proposed. The vast majority of GAS infection is benign. Nonetheless, many divergent M types possess limited capacity to cause invasive infection. M1T1 GAS readily switch to a covRS mutant form that is neutrophil resistant and frequently associated with systemic infection. Whilst non-M1 GAS are shown in this study to less frequently accumulate covRS mutations in vivo, such mutants are isolated from invasive infections and exhibit neutrophil resistance and enhanced virulence. The reduced capacity of non-M1 GAS to switch to the hypervirulent covRS mutant form provides an explanation for the comparatively less frequent isolation of non-M1 serotypes from invasive human infections.
Animal models; Bacteriology; Immunity; Innate; Neutrophils; Streptococcus; Virulence factors; Invasive infection
Microarrays are the main technology for large-scale transcriptional gene expression profiling, but the large bodies of data available in public databases are not useful due to the large heterogeneity. There are several initiatives that attempt to bundle these data into expression compendia, but such resources for bacterial organisms are scarce and limited to integration of experiments from the same platform or to indirect integration of per experiment analysis results.
We have constructed comprehensive organism-specific cross-platform expression compendia for three bacterial model organisms (Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium) together with an access portal, dubbed COLOMBOS, that not only provides easy access to the compendia, but also includes a suite of tools for exploring, analyzing, and visualizing the data within these compendia. It is freely available at http://bioi.biw.kuleuven.be/colombos. The compendia are unique in directly combining expression information from different microarray platforms and experiments, and we illustrate the potential benefits of this direct integration with a case study: extending the known regulon of the Fur transcription factor of E. coli. The compendia also incorporate extensive annotations for both genes and experimental conditions; these heterogeneous data are functionally integrated in the COLOMBOS analysis tools to interactively browse and query the compendia not only for specific genes or experiments, but also metabolic pathways, transcriptional regulation mechanisms, experimental conditions, biological processes, etc.
We have created cross-platform expression compendia for several bacterial organisms and developed a complementary access port COLOMBOS, that also serves as a convenient expression analysis tool to extract useful biological information. This work is relevant to a large community of microbiologists by facilitating the use of publicly available microarray experiments to support their research.
The virulence factor α-toxin (hla) is needed by Staphylococcus aureus in order to cause infections in both animals and humans. Although the complicated regulation of hla expression has been well studied in human S. aureus isolates, the mechanisms of of hla regulation in bovine S. aureus isolates remain undefined. In this study, we found that many bovine S. aureus isolates, including the RF122 strain, generate dramatic amounts of α-toxin in vitro compared with human clinical S. aureus isolates, including MRSA WCUH29 and MRSA USA300. To elucidate potential regulatory mechanisms, we analyzed the hla promoter regions and identified predominant single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at positions −376, −483, and −484 from the start codon in α-toxin hyper-producing isolates. Using site-directed mutagenesis and hla promoter-gfp-luxABCDE dual reporter approaches, we demonstrated that the SNPs contribute to the differential control of hla expression among bovine and human S. aureus isolates. Using a DNA affinity assay, gel-shift assays and a null mutant, we identified and revealed that an hla positive regulator, SarZ, contributes to the involvement of the SNPs in mediating hla expression. In addition, we found that the bovine S. aureus isolate RF122 exhibits higher transcription levels of hla positive regulators, including agrA, saeR, arlR and sarZ, but a lower expression level of hla repressor rot compared to the human S. aureus isolate WCUH29. Our results indicate α-toxin hyperproduction in bovine S. aureus is a multifactorial process, influenced at both the genomic and transcriptional levels. Moreover, the identification of predominant SNPs in the hla promoter region may provide a novel method for genotyping the S. aureus isolates.
The aquatic zoonotic pathogen Streptococcus iniae represents a threat to the worldwide aquaculture industry and poses a risk to humans who handle raw fish. Because little is known about the mechanisms of S. iniae pathogenesis or virulence factors, we established a high-throughput system combining whole-genome pyrosequencing and transposon mutagenesis that allowed us to identify virulence proteins, including Pdi, the polysaccharide deacetylase of S. iniae, that we describe here. Using bioinformatics tools, we identified a highly conserved signature motif in Pdi that is also conserved in the peptidoglycan deacetylase PgdA protein family. A Δpdi mutant was attenuated for virulence in the hybrid striped bass model and for survival in whole fish blood. Moreover, Pdi was found to promote bacterial resistance to lysozyme killing and the ability to adhere to and invade epithelial cells. On the other hand, there was no difference in the autolytic potential, resistance to oxidative killing or resistance to cationic antimicrobial peptides between S. iniae wild-type and Δpdi. In conclusion, we have demonstrated that pdi is involved in S. iniae adherence and invasion, lysozyme resistance and survival in fish blood, and have shown that pdi plays a role in the pathogenesis of S. iniae. Identification of Pdi and other S. iniae virulence proteins is a necessary initial step towards the development of appropriate preventive and therapeutic measures against diseases and economic losses caused by this pathogen.
Global protein identification through current proteomics methods typically depends on the availability of sequenced genomes. In spite of increasingly high throughput sequencing technologies, this information is not available for every microorganism and rarely available for entire microbial communities. Nevertheless, the protein-level homology that exists between related bacteria makes it possible to extract biological information from the proteome of an organism or microbial community by using the genomic sequences of a near neighbor organism. Here, we demonstrate a trans-organism search strategy for determining the extent to which near-neighbor genome sequences can be applied to identify proteins in unsequenced environmental isolates. In proof of concept testing, we found that within a CLUSTAL W distance of 0.089, near-neighbor genomes successfully identified a high percentage of proteins within an organism. Application of this strategy to characterize environmental bacterial isolates lacking sequenced genomes, but having 16S rDNA sequence similarity to Shewanella resulted in the identification of 300–500 proteins in each strain. The majority of identified pathways mapped to core processes, as well as to processes unique to the Shewanellae, in particular to the presence of c-type cytochromes. Examples of core functional categories include energy metabolism, protein and nucleotide synthesis and cofactor biosynthesis, allowing classification of bacteria by observation of conserved processes. Additionally, within these core functionalities, we observed proteins involved in the alternative lactate utilization pathway, recently described in Shewanella.
Francisella tularensis is a highly infectious facultative intracellular bacterium that can be transmitted between mammals by arthropod vectors. Similar to many other intracellular bacteria that replicate within the cytosol, such as Listeria, Shigella, Burkholderia, and Rickettsia, the virulence of F. tularensis depends on its ability to modulate biogenesis of its phagosome and to escape into the host cell cytosol where it proliferates. Recent studies have identified the F. tularensis genes required for modulation of phagosome biogenesis and escape into the host cell cytosol within human and arthropod-derived cells. However, the arthropod and mammalian host factors required for intracellular proliferation of F. tularensis are not known. We have utilized a forward genetic approach employing genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila melanogaster-derived cells. Screening a library of ∼21,300 RNAi, we have identified at least 186 host factors required for intracellular bacterial proliferation. We silenced twelve mammalian homologues by RNAi in HEK293T cells and identified three conserved factors, the PI4 kinase PI4KCA, the ubiquitin hydrolase USP22, and the ubiquitin ligase CDC27, which are also required for replication in human cells. The PI4KCA and USP22 mammalian factors are not required for modulation of phagosome biogenesis or phagosomal escape but are required for proliferation within the cytosol. In contrast, the CDC27 ubiquitin ligase is required for evading lysosomal fusion and for phagosomal escape into the cytosol. Although F. tularensis interacts with the autophagy pathway during late stages of proliferation in mouse macrophages, this does not occur in human cells. Our data suggest that F. tularensis utilizes host ubiquitin turnover in distinct mechanisms during the phagosomal and cytosolic phases and phosphoinositide metabolism is essential for cytosolic proliferation of F. tularensis. Our data will facilitate deciphering molecular ecology, patho-adaptation of F. tularensis to the arthropod vector and its role in bacterial ecology and patho-evolution to infect mammals.
Genes, like organisms, struggle for existence, and the most successful genes persist and widely disseminate in nature. The unbiased determination of the most successful genes requires access to sequence data from a wide range of phylogenetic taxa and ecosystems, which has finally become achievable thanks to the deluge of genomic and metagenomic sequences. Here, we analyzed 10 million protein-encoding genes and gene tags in sequenced bacterial, archaeal, eukaryotic and viral genomes and metagenomes, and our analysis demonstrates that genes encoding transposases are the most prevalent genes in nature. The finding that these genes, classically considered as selfish genes, outnumber essential or housekeeping genes suggests that they offer selective advantage to the genomes and ecosystems they inhabit, a hypothesis in agreement with an emerging body of literature. Their mobile nature not only promotes dissemination of transposable elements within and between genomes but also leads to mutations and rearrangements that can accelerate biological diversification and—consequently—evolution. By securing their own replication and dissemination, transposases guarantee to thrive so long as nucleic acid-based life forms exist.
Biochemical pathways provide an essential context for understanding comprehensive experimental data and the systematic workings of a cell. Therefore, the availability of online pathway browsers will facilitate post-genomic research, just as genome browsers have contributed to genomics. Many pathway maps have been provided online as part of public pathway databases. Most of these maps, however, function as the gateway interface to a specific database, and the comprehensiveness of their represented entities, data mapping capabilities, and user interfaces are not always sufficient for generic usage.
We have identified five central requirements for a pathway browser: (1) availability of large integrated maps showing genes, enzymes, and metabolites; (2) comprehensive search features and data access; (3) data mapping for transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic experiments, as well as the ability to edit and annotate pathway maps; (4) easy exchange of pathway data; and (5) intuitive user experience without the requirement for installation and regular maintenance. According to these requirements, we have evaluated existing pathway databases and tools and implemented a web-based pathway browser named Pathway Projector as a solution.
Pathway Projector provides integrated pathway maps that are based upon the KEGG Atlas, with the addition of nodes for genes and enzymes, and is implemented as a scalable, zoomable map utilizing the Google Maps API. Users can search pathway-related data using keywords, molecular weights, nucleotide sequences, and amino acid sequences, or as possible routes between compounds. In addition, experimental data from transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic analyses can be readily mapped. Pathway Projector is freely available for academic users at http://www.g-language.org/PathwayProjector/.
Upon IgE-mediated activation, mast cells (MC) exocytose their cytoplasmic secretory granules and release a variety of bioactive substances that trigger inflammatory responses. Polyamines mediate numerous cellular and physiological functions. We report here that MCs express antizyme inhibitor 2 (AZIN2), an activator of polyamine biosynthesis, previously reported to be exclusively expressed in the brain and testis. We have investigated the intracellular localization of AZIN2 both in resting and activated MCs. In addition, we have examined the functional role of polyamines, downstream effectors of AZIN2, as potential regulators of MC activity.
Immunostainings show that AZIN2 is expressed in primary and neoplastic human and rodent MCs. We demonstrate that AZIN2 localizes in the Vamp-8 positive, serotonin-containing subset of MC granules, but not in tryptase-containing granules, as revealed by double immunofluorescence stainings. Furthermore, activation of MCs induces rapid upregulation of AZIN2 expression and its redistribution, suggesting a role for AZIN2 in secretory granule exocytosis. We also demonstrate that release of serotonin from activated MCs is polyamine-dependent whereas release of histamine and β-hexosaminidase is not, indicating a granule subtype-specific function for polyamines.
The study reports for the first time the expression of AZIN2 outside the brain and testis, and demonstrates the intracellular localization of endogenous AZIN2 in MCs. The granule subtype-specific expression and its induction after MC activation suggest a role for AZIN2 as a local, in situ regulator of polyamine biosynthesis in association with serotonin-containing granules of MCs. Furthermore, our data indicates a novel function for polyamines as selective regulators of serotonin release from MCs.
The Bacillus subtilis genes dnaD and dnaB are essential for the initiation of DNA replication and are required for loading of the replicative helicase at the chromosomal origin of replication oriC. Wild type DnaD and DnaB interact weakly in vitro and this interaction has not been detected in vivo or in yeast two-hybrid assays.
We isolated second site suppressors of the temperature sensitive phenotypes caused by one dnaD mutation and two different dnaB mutations. Five different intragenic suppressors of the dnaD23ts mutation were identified. One intragenic suppressor was a deletion of two amino acids in DnaD. This deletion caused increased and detectable interaction between the mutant DnaD and wild type DnaB in a yeast two-hybrid assay, similar to the increased interaction caused by a missense mutation in dnaB that is an extragenic suppressor of dnaD23ts. We isolated both intragenic and extragenic suppressors of the two dnaBts alleles. Some of the extragenic suppressors were informational suppressors (missense suppressors) in tRNA genes. These suppressor mutations caused a change in the anticodon of an alanine tRNA so that it would recognize the mutant codon (threonine) in dnaB and likely insert the wild type amino acid (alanine).
The intragenic suppressors should provide insights into structure-function relationships in DnaD and DnaB, and interactions between DnaD and DnaB. The extragenic suppressors in the tRNA genes have important implications regarding the amount of wild type DnaB needed in the cell. Since missense suppressors are typically inefficient, these findings indicate that production of a small amount of wild type DnaB, in combination with the mutant protein, is sufficient to restore some DnaB function.
The ppGpp molecule is part of a highly conserved regulatory system for mediating the growth response to various environmental conditions. This mechanism may represent a common strategy whereby pathogens such as Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague, regulate the virulence gene programs required for invasion, survival and persistence within host cells to match the capacity for growth. The products of the relA and spoT genes carry out ppGpp synthesis. To investigate the role of ppGpp on growth, protein synthesis, gene expression and virulence, we constructed a ΔrelA ΔspoT Y. pestis mutant. The mutant was no longer able to synthesize ppGpp in response to amino acid or carbon starvation, as expected. We also found that it exhibited several novel phenotypes, including a reduced growth rate and autoaggregation at 26°C. In addition, there was a reduction in the level of secretion of key virulence proteins and the mutant was>1,000-fold less virulent than its wild-type parent strain. Mice vaccinated subcutaneously (s.c.) with 2.5×104 CFU of the ΔrelA ΔspoT mutant developed high anti-Y. pestis serum IgG titers, were completely protected against s.c. challenge with 1.5×105 CFU of virulent Y. pestis and partially protected (60% survival) against pulmonary challenge with 2.0×104 CFU of virulent Y. pestis. Our results indicate that ppGpp represents an important virulence determinant in Y. pestis and the ΔrelA ΔspoT mutant strain is a promising vaccine candidate to provide protection against plague.
Ecological and genetic factors that govern the occurrence and persistence of anthrax reservoirs in the environment are obscure. A central tenet, based on limited and often conflicting studies, has long held that growing or vegetative forms of Bacillus anthracis survive poorly outside the mammalian host and must sporulate to survive in the environment. Here, we present evidence of a more dynamic lifecycle, whereby interactions with bacterial viruses, or bacteriophages, elicit phenotypic alterations in B. anthracis and the emergence of infected derivatives, or lysogens, with dramatically altered survival capabilities. Using both laboratory and environmental B. anthracis strains, we show that lysogeny can block or promote sporulation depending on the phage, induce exopolysaccharide expression and biofilm formation, and enable the long-term colonization of both an artificial soil environment and the intestinal tract of the invertebrate redworm, Eisenia fetida. All of the B. anthracis lysogens existed in a pseudolysogenic-like state in both the soil and worm gut, shedding phages that could in turn infect non-lysogenic B. anthracis recipients and confer survival phenotypes in those environments. Finally, the mechanism behind several phenotypic changes was found to require phage-encoded bacterial sigma factors and the expression of at least one host-encoded protein predicted to be involved in the colonization of invertebrate intestines. The results here demonstrate that during its environmental phase, bacteriophages provide B. anthracis with alternatives to sporulation that involve the activation of soil-survival and endosymbiotic capabilities.