A mobile genetic element profoundly increases heat resistance of bacterial spores

Berendsen, E. M., Boekhorst, J., Kuipers, O. P. & Wells-Bennik, M. H. J., 22-Apr-2016, In : The ISME journal. 10, 11, p. 2633-2642 10 p., 2016.59.

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  • A mobile genetic element profoundly increases heat resistance

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Bacterial endospores are among the most resilient forms of life on earth and are intrinsically resistant to extreme environments and antimicrobial treatments. Their resilience is explained by unique cellular structures formed by a complex developmental process often initiated in response to nutrient deprivation. Although the macromolecular structures of spores from different bacterial species are similar, their resistance to environmental insults differs widely. It is not known which of the factors attributed to spore resistance confer very high-level heat resistance. Here, we provide conclusive evidence that in Bacillus subtilis, this is due to the presence of a mobile genetic element (Tn1546-like) carrying five predicted operons, one of which contains genes that encode homologs of SpoVAC, SpoVAD and SpoVAEb and four other genes encoding proteins with unknown functions. This operon, named spoVA(2mob), confers high-level heat resistance to spores. Deletion of spoVA(2mob) in a B. subtilis strain carrying Tn1546 renders heat-sensitive spores while transfer of spoVA(2mob) into B. subtilis 168 yields highly heat-resistant spores. On the basis of the genetic conservation of different spoVA operons among spore-forming species of Bacillaceae, we propose an evolutionary scenario for the emergence of extremely heat-resistant spores in B. subtilis, B. licheniformis and B. amyloliquefaciens. This discovery opens up avenues for improved detection and control of spore-forming bacteria able to produce highly heat-resistant spores.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 22 April 2016; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.59.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2016.59
Pages (from-to)2633-2642
Number of pages10
JournalThe ISME journal
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 22-Apr-2016

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