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Summary

Successful colonization of a eukaryotic host by a microbe involves complex microbe–microbe and microbe–host interactions. Previously, we identified in Vibrio fischeri a putative sensor kinase, RscS, required for initiating symbiotic colonization of its squid host Euprymna scolopes. Here, we analysed the role of rscS by isolating an allele, rscS1, with increased activity. Multicopy rscS1 activated transcription of genes within the recently identified symbiosis polysaccharide (syp) cluster. Wild-type cells carrying rscS1 induced aggregation phenotypes in culture, including the formation of pellicles and wrinkled colonies, in a syp-dependent manner. Colonies formed by rscS1-expressing cells produced a matrix not found in control colonies and largely lost in an rscS1-expressing sypN mutant. Finally, multicopy rscS1 provided a colonization advantage over control cells and substantially enhanced the ability of wild-type cells to aggregate on the surface of the symbiotic organ of E. scolopes; this latter phenotype similarly depended upon an intact syp locus. These results suggest that transcription induced by RscS-mediated signal transduction plays a key role in colonization at the aggregation stage by modifying the cell surface and increasing the ability of the cells to adhere to one another and/or to squid-secreted mucus.