Evolution of signalling in the sporulation phosphorelay



Two-component and phosphorelay signal transduction systems are believed to function as environ-mental sensors that programme gene expression to the composition of the ecological niche in which a microbe normally resides. The question of how evolutionarily related bacteria that occupy different environments change their signal transduction pathways to adapt to such environments was asked of the sporulation phosphorelay of Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus halodurans, Bacillus anthracis and Bacillus stearothermophilus. Comparison of the primary amino acid sequence of phosphorelay proteins with the known structural and interactive properties of the B. subtilis proteins revealed that the amino acid residues of interaction surfaces between phosphorelay proteins and between a phosphorelay protein and DNA resist evolutionary change. The absolute conservation of interaction surfaces allowed the identification of sporulation sensor kinases in B. halodurans, B. anthracis and B. stearothermophilus. In these sensor kinases, the signal-sensing domains are vastly different in size and subdomain composition, with little apparent conservation between species, whereas the catalytic domains of these sensor kinases retain the high level of homology observed for the other phosphorelay proteins. Adaptation to new environments appears to result in rapid evolution of signalling domains to maximize environmental impact while maintaining identical protein–protein and protein–DNA contacts in the entire phosphorelay. In Clostridial genomes, only the Spo0A protein was found, suggesting that the anaerobic relatives of the Bacilli do not use a phosphorelay and phosphorylate Spo0A directly with sensor kinases.