Biosynthesis of tripyrrole and β-lactam secondary metabolites in Serratia: integration of quorum sensing with multiple new regulatory components in the control of prodigiosin and carbapenem antibiotic production


E-mail; Tel. (+44) 12 2333 3650; Fax (+44) 12 2376 6108.


Serratia sp. ATCC 39006 (39006) uses a complex hierarchical regulatory network allowing multiple inputs to be assessed before genes involved in secondary metabolite biosynthesis are expressed. This taxonomically ill-defined Serratia sp. produces a carbapenem antibiotic (Car; a β-lactam) and a red pigmented antibiotic, prodigiosin (Pig; a tripyrrole), which are controlled by the smaIR quorum sensing (QS) locus. SmaR is a repressor of Pig and Car when levels of N-acyl- l-homoserine lactones, produced by SmaI, are low. In this study, we demonstrate direct DNA binding of purified SmaR to the promoter of the Car biosynthetic genes and abolition of this binding by the QS ligand. We have also identified multiple new secondary metabolite regulators. QS controls production of secondary metabolites, at least in part, by modulating transcription of three genes encoding regulatory proteins, including a putative response regulator of the GacAS two-component signalling system family, a novel putative adenylate cyclase and Rap (regulator of antibiotic and pigment). Mutations in another gene encoding a novel predicted global regulator, pigP, are highly pleiotropic; PigP has a significant ‘master’ regulatory role in 39006 where it controls the transcription of six other regulators. The PigP protein and its homologues define a new family of regulators and are predicted to bind DNA via a helix-turn-helix domain. There are regulatory overlaps between the QS and PigP regulons that enable the information from different physiological cues to be funnelled into the control of secondary metabolite production.