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Summary

Social (S)-motility in Myxococcus xanthus is a flagellum-independent gliding motility system that allows bacteria to move in groups on solid surfaces. S-motility has been shown to require type IV pili (TFP), exopolysaccharide (EPS; a component of fibrils) and lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Previously, information concerning EPS biogenesis in M. xanthus was lacking. In this study, we screened 5000 randomly mutagenized colonies for defects in S-motility and EPS and identified two genetic regions essential for EPS biogenesis: the EPS synthesis (eps) region and the EPS-associated (eas) region. Mutants with insertions in the eps and eas regions were defective in S-motility and fruiting body formation. These mutants failed to bind the dye calcofluor white, indicating that they lacked EPS; however, they retained normal TFP and LPS. Analysis of the eps locus showed several open reading frames (ORFs) that encode homologues to glycosyltransferases, glucanases and EPS transporters as well as regulatory proteins; the eas locus contains two ORFs: one exhibits homology to hypothetical proteins with a conserved domain of unknown function and the other displays no apparent homology to other proteins in the database. Further genetic mutagenesis analysis indicates that the whole eps region is involved in the biosynthesis of fibrils and fibril EPS. The operon at the proximal end of the eps region was analysed by generating in-frame deletion mutations. These mutants showed varying degrees of defects in the bacterium's ability to produce EPS or perform EPS-related functions, confirming the involvement of these genes in M. xanthus EPS biogenesis.