Characterization of the gacA-dependent surface and coral mucus colonization by an opportunistic coral pathogen Serratia marcescens PDL100


Correspondence: Max Teplitski, University of Florida-IFAS, PO Box 103610, Gainesville, FL 32610-3610, USA. Tel.: +1 352 273 8195; fax: +1 352 273 8284; e-mail:


Opportunistic pathogens rely on global regulatory systems to assess the environment and to control virulence and metabolism to overcome host defenses and outcompete host-associated microbiota. In Gammaproteobacteria, GacS/GacA is one such regulatory system. GacA orthologs direct the expression of the csr (rsm) small regulatory RNAs, which through their interaction with the RNA-binding protein CsrA (RsmA), control genes with functions in carbon metabolism, motility, biofilm formation, and virulence. The csrB gene was controlled by gacA in Serratia marcescens PDL100. A disruption of the S. marcescens gacA gene resulted in an increased fitness of the mutant on mucus of the host coral Acropora palmata and its high molecular weight fraction, whereas the mutant was as competitive as the wild type on the low molecular weight fraction of the mucus. Swarming motility and biofilm formation were reduced in the gacA mutant. This indicates a critical role for gacA in the efficient utilization of specific components of coral mucus and establishment within the surface mucopolysaccharide layer. While significantly affecting early colonization behaviors (coral mucus utilization, swarming motility, and biofilm formation), gacA was not required for virulence of S. marcescens PDL100 in either a model polyp Aiptasia pallida or in brine shrimp Artemia nauplii.