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Keywords:

  • Chemotaxis;
  • Euprymna scolopes ;
  • Flagellar motility;
  • symbiosis

Abstract

Bacterial flagellar motility is a complex cellular behavior required for the colonization of the light-emitting organ of the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, by the beneficial bioluminescent symbiont Vibrio fischeri. We characterized the basis of this behavior by performing (i) a forward genetic screen to identify mutants defective in soft-agar motility, as well as (ii) a transcriptional analysis to determine the genes that are expressed downstream of the flagellar master regulator FlrA. Mutants with severe defects in soft-agar motility were identified due to insertions in genes with putative roles in flagellar motility and in genes that were unexpected, including those predicted to encode hypothetical proteins and cell division–related proteins. Analysis of mutants for their ability to enter into a productive symbiosis indicated that flagellar motility mutants are deficient, while chemotaxis mutants are able to colonize a subset of juvenile squid to light-producing levels. Thirty-three genes required for normal motility in soft agar were also downregulated in the absence of FlrA, suggesting they belong to the flagellar regulon of V. fischeri. Mutagenesis of putative paralogs of the flagellar motility genes motA, motB, and fliL revealed that motA1, motB1, and both fliL1 and fliL2, but not motA2 and motB2, likely contribute to soft-agar motility. Using these complementary approaches, we have characterized the genetic basis of flagellar motility in V. fischeri and furthered our understanding of the roles of flagellar motility and chemotaxis in colonization of the juvenile squid, including identifying 11 novel mutants unable to enter into a productive light-organ symbiosis.